The government has recently announced plans to consult on proposals to remove the “no fault” eviction procedure under Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988. This allows a landlord to serve a two-month eviction notice on a tenant without giving a reason and then, if all the documentation is in order, start possession proceeding to evict the tenant.
“Everyone renting in the private sector has the right to feel secure in their home, settled in their community and able to plan for the future with confidence,” said Prime Minister Theresa May when outlining the new plans. She added; “Landlords will still be able to end tenancies where they have legitimate reasons to do so, but they will no longer be able to unexpectedly evict families with only 8 weeks’ notice.”
The proposals have been warmly welcomed by tenants and campaign groups who have long argued that scrapping Section 21 notices would better protect the rising number of private renters and prevent landlords from evicting tenants for either no reason or following complaints about poor conditions. However groups representing landlords have raised concerns that unless landlords have confidence that they can swiftly recover possession of their properties, many will leave the sector resulting in a big fall in available housing stock.
The current system
Under the current legislation, a landlord can serve a Section 21 notice on an assured shorthold tenant without giving a reason to expire at the end of the fixed-term tenancy or if there is a “break clause”, after not less than six months has elapsed since the start of the tenancy.
However, in order to serve a valid Section 21 notice, the landlord must first ensure that they have provided the tenant with an Energy Performance Certificate, a current gas safety certificate and the government’s ‘How to rent’ guide and that they have complied with the tenancy deposit legislation if a deposit has been taken.
The alternative method for a landlord to obtain possession is by serving a Section 8 notice which is usually used in cases where the landlord says a tenant has breached the terms of a tenancy agreement, such as the landlord stating the tenant is in rent arrears or there are allegations of anti-social behaviour.
However the Section 8 procedure generally takes much longer to result in possession being recovered, and is more expensive than the Sector 21 notice procedure, because in the latter, there will always need to be a court hearing at which the landlord will have to prove to the court that the grounds being relied upon are made out.
It is also the case that for some Section 8 grounds, known as the discretionary grounds, the landlord will need to show that it is reasonable for the court to make an order.
The new proposals
The rented sector has risen significantly in recent years and the English Housing Survey 2017-18 found that an estimated 23.3 million households in England were renting of which 4.5 million (just under 20%) were in the private rented sector.
The government stated in their 2017 Autumn Budget that they were committed to consulting on overcoming barriers to longer term tenancies in the private rented sector and the present consultation on scrapping Section 21 evictions is part of this plan.
Details about the new proposals are still limited because the government consultation has not yet been published. However Housing Secretary James Brokenshire has confirmed plans to completely abolish the Section 21 notice procedure and said landlords will be required to provide “concrete evidenced reason already specified in law” in order to bring a tenancy to an end by relying on one or more Section 8 grounds.
Section 8 evictions are set to be reformed with the present notice procedure amended to add new grounds so that a landlord can evict a tenant, and regain the property, should they wish to sell or move in to the property. The government has also promised that these reforms will be accompanied by quicker court processes.
The government is also consulting on creating open-ended tenancies for private renters and says the proposed measures are pitched at providing “greater certainty” for tenants while creating a more secure rental market for landlords to remain and invest in.
The tenant’s response
The proposals have been welcomed by tenant rights campaign groups, such as Shelter, who have voiced their concerns that evictions following service of Section 21 notices are one of the main reasons for the rising tide in homelessness. In 2010/11, the end of an assured shorthold tenancy was given as a reason for a person becoming homeless in 15% of cases. This had risen to 34% in 2016/17.
Tenants also believe that the proposed changes will result in an end to the practice of them being evicted due to asking for repairs to be carried out and further, that introducing open-ended tenancies will give greater long term security without tenants constantly having to find new short term accommodation.
Shelter chief executive Polly Neate said: “One in four families now privately rent their home, as do hundreds of thousands of older people. And yet we frequently hear from people with contracts shorter than your average gym membership, who live in constant fear of being thrown out at the drop of a hat”.
She added: “Ending Section 21 evictions will transform these renter’s lives – giving them room to breathe and put down roots in a place they can finally call home”.
The landlord’s response
There has been a more mixed response from groups representing landlords some of whom warn that the abolition of Section 21 notices could have a devastating effect on the private rented sector because it is suggested that landlords will lose confidence that they are able to regain possession of properties quickly and this in turn will impact on the numbers investing in the Buy to Let sector.
The private rented sector has seen a significant amount of new legislation in the last decade, much of which has focused on better protecting tenants and regulating the activities of landlords. Some landlords maintain that many of the obstacles the government is seeking to overcome have already been legislated for and that the real problem is that there is a lack of awareness amongst many landlords and tenants as regards their existing rights and obligations.