On 15th April 2019, the Government announced its plans to run a consultation on proposals to remove the ability of landlords to use “no fault” evictions under Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988.
As the law currently stands, a landlord can evict a tenant who has an assured shorthold tenancy (“AST”) using a Section 21 or Section 8 Notice.
Section 21 Notices can be served to evict tenants either on expiry of the fixed term of the tenancy, where there is provision for a break during the tenancy, or at the end of a period of the tenancy where the tenancy has become “periodic”. When issuing a Section 21 Notice, there is no requirement for the tenant to be in breach, or for a landlord to specify valid reasons for wanting to bring the tenancy to an end.
Section 21 Notices are available in a wide array of instances (subject to compliance with various criteria) where the tenant is not at fault, such as when the landlord wants to regain possession of the property for their own use or to develop, where the landlords management circumstances have changed, or where there may have been a general breakdown in the landlord/tenant relationship. Landlords are currently able to gain possession of their property using this accelerated method by serving their tenant with a Section 21 Notice. A Section 21 Notice must give the tenant at least 2 months’ notice to vacate. If the tenant fails to vacate before the Notice expires, possession proceedings can be issued.
Since there is no obligation on landlords to provide solid reasoning for regaining possession, some landlords have been known to serve retaliatory Section 21 Notices where a tenant has complained about aspects of the property such as the state of repair. Some tenants therefore live in fear that if they complain, they will be evicted without warning, and feel that they cannot comment on the state of the premises. It is for this reason that the Government has proposed the abolition of Section 21, to make evictions fairer for tenants and prevent retaliatory Notices from being served.
Under the proposals, landlords will be required to provide an evidenced reason for bringing a tenancy to an end, which may be similar to the method of gaining possession under Section 8 of the Housing Act 1988.
The reasons, or “grounds” under which landlords can seek possession under Section 8 are listed in Schedule 2, Section 8 of the 1988 Act. Some grounds are mandatory, meaning if the landlord asserts them, the Court must award possession; others are discretionary, meaning the Court has the power to decide whether or not to award possession. Current Section 8 grounds include where the landlord wishes to gain possession in order to occupy the property as his own residence where he occupied it as such prior to the tenancy (subject to notice of that fact having been served on the Tenant on commencement of the Tenancy), and where the landlord wants to demolish and reconstruct or redevelop all of/part of the property and the tenant refuses to live in all of/part of the property while the works are being undertaken. How much notice needs to be provided to the tenant depends on which ground is cited by the landlord.
If Section 21 is abolished as proposed, it is likely that the grounds under Section 8 will be amended to give landlords extended means of gaining possession of their property.
News coverage on the Section 21 proposals details how many tenants are often reluctant to complain about disrepair to their landlord for fear that they will be served with a Section 21 Notice. However, tenants are afforded protection in this regard under the Fitness for Human Habitation Act 2018. It is worth noting that tenants are protected from unfair eviction where their landlord has received an improvement notice from the Council.