Government to repeal Section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act

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The private rented sector is a significant portion of the UK’s residential property market, comprising some 11 million tenants nationwide. The government is seeking to offer these tenants greater protection by preventing faultless tenants from being evicted from their rented premises without any obligation on the landlord to provide a reason for the eviction.

As yet, there is no confirmation of when the consultation or repeal will happen, but under the Government’s plans, landlords would have to provide a “concrete, evidenced reason already specified in law” in order to terminate Assured Shorthold Tenancies (ASTs). The Government will collaborate with and listen to tenants, landlords and others in the private rented sector as part of the consultation process.

Since the Housing Act 1988 came into force, landlords have utilised section 21 to circumvent the formal section 8 procedure and evict tenants who are subject to a fixed term AST without reason, on or after the end of the term, on not less than two months’ notice.

The changes seek to give primacy to the section 8 procedure, which requires that a landlord provides grounds for terminating the tenancy in the notice to the tenant. The Section 8 notice needs to show that the tenant has breached the conditions of the tenancy agreement. This heavy burden on the landlord invites dispute with the tenant and can lead to significant costs.

As a result, the National Landlords Association (NLA) claims Section 21 ended up becoming “a backstop to overcome the ineffective Section 8 process, where a landlord has to go to court to regain possession when a tenant is in breach of their tenancy agreement, because it is seen as slow, costly and inefficient”.

Those in favour of the proposed changes argue that section 21 has produced a litany of cautionary tales for tenants, many of whom claim that fear of eviction discourages them from complaining about issues with a property or poor conditions. Indeed, the Citizens Advice Bureau published the results of a study undertaken in 2018 which suggests tenants who made a formal complaint about a property had a 46 per cent chance of being evicted from it within six months.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government have stated that there is evidence to support the notion that the removal of tenants via section 21 is one of the biggest causes of family homelessness.

However, the proposed changes have generated substantial opposition from despairing landlords who envisage that any difficulties in removing tenants will only increase pressure on the sector and discourage new landlords from investing in buy-to-let properties. Furthermore, many landlords have used the provision to remove tenants from a property to either allow them to sell the home or move into it themselves.

Richard Lambert, the National Landlords Association chief executive, said property owners had to use Section 21 because they have “no confidence” in the courts to deal with possession claims “quickly and surely”.  In a bid to quell these fears, the Communities Secretary, James Brokenshire MP, stated that “ministers will amend the Section 8 eviction process, so property owners are able to regain their home should they wish to sell it or move into it”.

Brokenshire also asserted that “court processes will also be expedited so landlords are able to swiftly and smoothly regain their property in the….event of tenants falling into rent arrears or damaging the property”.

Despite these promises, landlords are concerned that the removal of section 21 and the increased reliance on section 8 will create a backlog in the courts and prevent them from regaining control of their property without significant delay and expense.

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