Government proposals to change the law on evicting tenants have serious implications for private landlords. Hayley Wharton discusses the main issues.
Fresh legislation designed to protect tenants from unethical behaviour could mean an end to no-fault evictions.
The government has launched a consultation process on abolishing section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act – also known as ‘no fault’ repossessions. Ministers say they want to make the court system more effective so landlords can repossess properties more easily in legitimate cases.
However, the move has prompted criticism from the Residential Landlords Association (RLA), which has warned of potential serious risks to the supply of rented accommodation if landlords cannot be confident of repossessing their properties quickly.
What the law currently says
Under the present legislation, a section 21 notice enables landlords to remove tenants without saying why. This involves landlords serving an eviction notice at the end of a fixed term tenancy (where there is a written contract), or during a periodic tenancy (which does not have a fixed end-date).
Landlords need to give tenants a minimum of two months’ notice.
Typically, section 21 notices are served to remove tenants when landlords want to sell the property, move into it themselves, or carry out extensive renovations.
What the changes will mean for landlords
If the government’s reforms are implemented, landlords will have to provide a solid, evidence-based reason, that is specified in law, for evicting a tenant.
Critics of the proposals, including the National Landlords Association (NLA), say the abolishment will make it harder for landlords to evict renters unless in breach of their tenancy agreement.
The NLA says section 21 ended up as ‘a backstop’ that enabled landlords to get round the section 8 process, which has been criticised as slow, costly and inefficient. In effect, section 8 means a landlord must take court action to remove a tenant who is in breach of the tenancy agreement.
Nonetheless, the government insists the changes will give landlords better ways of recovering their property in genuine cases.
Ministers have vowed to expedite court procedures so landlords can quickly regain properties from tenants who have, for example, missed rental payments or caused damage to the property.
Why campaigners support the reforms
Campaigners in favour of the reforms argue that fear of eviction stops tenants from complaining about legitimate problems with a property.
This is supported by research from Citizens Advice in 2018 that indicated tenants who complained formally about a property had a 46 per cent chance of being evicted within six months. In addition, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government cited evidence suggesting that ending tenancies through section 21 was one of the greatest causes of family homelessness.
Research shows the present system is not abused
Conversely, opponents of the changes point to official data showing that private tenants occupy their rental properties for an average of more than four years, with 90 per cent of tenancies ended by the tenant as opposed to the landlord.
Moreover, research by Manchester Metropolitan University for the RLA found that in a large majority of cases there was a genuine reason why tenants were asked to move out under Section 21 notices.
The same study also revealed that 50 per cent of the notices were used as a result of rent arrears, anti-social behaviour or property damage.
For further advice on landlord and tenant issues, call Hayley Wharton on 0161 761 4611 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org