Confessions of a dodgy sub-tenant

Back in the 1990s I rented a council flat in Hackney from the legit tenant. He’d moved in with his girlfriend in south London but wanted to hang on to the flat. Somewhat ironic as I was working as a housing officer at the time.


Stopping sub-letting is one of the hardest jobs in social housing. Unlike rent arrears or anti-social behaviour the evidence doesn’t come to the landlord. It’s an absolute bugger to prove, pretty much the only way is if either the tenant or their sub-tenant confesses all. And if you proceed to court you won’t get possession, the Judge will just order the real tenant to return to their property.

Today Housing Minister Grant Shapps has announced a crackdown on sub-letting (details here). Essentially £19 million of funding to councils (not housing associations, oddly) and some encouragement for social landlords to use credit checking agencies.

His statement claims there are at least 50,000 dodgy sublets with up to 1 in 20 units in London involved. I’d guess higher than that, but it is just a guess.

Anyway, the ‘crackdown’ won’t amount to much. Credit checking agencies may add a small amount of useful information but it’ll be hard to present it in court. Housing Associations are being left out entirely. The housing measures in the localism bill don’t have anything about subletting.

What’s needed is a carefully crafted change in the law although I’m not sure exactly what. Start with making subletting a mandatory ground for possession.

3 Responses to Confessions of a dodgy sub-tenant

  1. Nearly Legal says:

    Umm, it is a mandatory ground. A sublet of the whole property ends a secure or assured tenancy by operation of law, what is left is a contractual tenancy terminable by Notice to Quit.

    The only defence is that there was no parting with possession of the whole by the tenant so the NTQ is of no effect. If the sublet is shown to have taken place, then the tenant can’t even argue Pinnock style Article 8 defence as the property wasn’t their ‘home’.

    Either you encountered some very badly informed district judges, or, forgive me, more probably housing officers bringing the possession claim who didn’t have a clue what they were doing and brought the wrong claim.



  2. inks2010 says:

    Now that is genuinely interesting. Excuse me a moment.

    ponder ponder ponder…

    Nope, I really don’t understand.

    “A sublet of the whole property ends a secure or assured tenancy by operation of law, what is left is a contractual tenancy terminable by Notice to Quit.”

    Surely a tenancy can only be ended by a court?

    Google says I’m wrong and you’re right*… very interesting, cheers NL. I have certainly encountered some ill-informed district judges in my time but in this case it’s more a policy officer failure.

    For secure tenancies the relevant bit of law is apparently s93(2) of the Housing Act 1985 – which I’ll now go off and look up – I’m not sure about Assureds.

    *Not a surprise, NL is a highly qualified housing law specialist and I’m, er, not.

    • NL says:

      For assureds, try 1(1)(b) Housing Act 1988. Same basis for both – tenancy is only secure or assured so long as the condition that it is the tenant’s only or principal home is met. Sub let of whole is automatically a breach of that condition, so security of tenure is lost at that time. A bare contractural tenancy can be ended by notice to quit but still falls under Protection from Eviction Act, so possession requires court proceedings, but if the NTQ was properly served, and the sub let made out, possession MUST be given by the court.

      You’re quite right that a secure or assured tenancy can only be ended by the court – but that only applies if it is still secure/assured. The tenant can lose security of tenure, as here.

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