Our co-director Tessa shares her thoughts on the government’s plan to consult on new legislation to end evictions using section 21 notices in England.
Section 21 means that landlords can currently end tenancies with eight weeks’ notice – when they choose to and without a particular reason – after a fixed-term tenancy comes to an end. The change will effectively create open-ended flexible tenancies, with the aim of creating more security for renters. Wider reforms also aim to ensure landlords have more effective means of getting their property back when they genuinely need to do so.
The 15 April announcement sends a clear reminder that investing in property as a landlord is very different from investment in a product or service. Housing is also people’s homes – the foundation for a healthy and fulfilling life.
There are many excellent landlords out there who value doing things well: ensuring their property is ready for a tenancy, working with professional intermediary organisations (if they need to), communicating clearly, taking a human approach and always acting professionally and with integrity. Unfortunately, however there are also landlords who do not value these things and who have evicted tenants following valid property condition complaints through what are referred to as ‘no-fault’ evictions.*
The plan to end Section 21 evictions seeks to address the lack of security caused by this. This is urgently needed as the Law Society of England and Wales has highlighted that “housing advice is already limited, and even when people are facing repossession, or disrepair presents major health risks, they may not be able to get the legal advice they need to properly enforce their rights.”
Landlord and sector concern about this announcement
However, there are concerns in the sector that this change in legislation risks reducing the supply of private rented sector (PRS) housing during a period when many other factors are also influencing supply in the PRS, from welfare reform and tax changes to HMO licensing and uncertainties around Brexit. The Residential Landlords Association warns that “at a time when the demand for rental homes is outstripping supply, especially among vulnerable tenants, the government risks exacerbating the problem if it does not ensure that landlords have complete confidence that they can repossess properties swiftly for legitimate reasons,” without incurring additional costs.
Section 8 can currently be implemented when a tenant has fallen into rent arrears, has been involved in criminal or antisocial behaviour or has broken terms of the rent agreement, such as damaging the property. However, often private landlords do not have the skill sets to pursue section 8 proceedings. It is more common for social landlords to pursue this route and they often expend a lot of resources in terms of staff time on anti-social behaviour cases and are often frustrated by the courts. Arrears cases are more straightforward but private landlords can still struggle to pursue these cases. The expertise of solicitors and managing agents are often needed to pursue cases for them.
How the wider regulatory framework will need to evolve around this reform
We must therefore ensure the court system and Section 8 is made fit for purpose so that landlords have full confidence in the new system. The government plan to amend Section 8 so it can also be used by landlords if they want to sell the property or move back in themselves. Court processes will also be overhauled to make it easier to evict tenants who are in rent arrears or who damage the property. The government is also consulting the judiciary on a specialist housing court.
If the above regulatory framework is not reformed as it needs to be and landlords and staff in the sector are not properly informed of these changes, the end of Section 21 evictions does risk landlords being less willing to house lower income tenants due to the greater perceived risks associated with ending their tenancy when they need to do so. However, this does certainly not need to be the case and we can learn from recent reforms in Scotland to avoid this.
How the PRS is governed should reflect how it is used
It cannot be ignored that there are now lots of vulnerable people in the PRS in England, including 2.8 million children and increasingly, more older people as the PRS now makes up 21% of households. For those with children and the elderly in particular and also those on lower incomes, being asked to move at short notice – without sufficient time to put alternative plans in place and to save for the move – could have a devastating impact on the ability to continue work, school and other life commitments and could potentially even lead to becoming homeless. So as the use of the PRS has evolved, so too must how it is governed.
Housing should be recognised as a crucial part of public infrastructure
At the same time, the PRS should not become the default alternative to other important types of housing but should be part of a balanced housing system that effectively meets a wide range of housing needs. Much more social rented housing, intermediary housing and suitable open market housing for owner occupiers must be built and advocated for as a crucial part of public infrastructure.
These considerations should inform the forthcoming consultation on ending Section 21 evictions
The government will shortly launch a consultation on ending Section 21 evictions in the private rented sector in England and we must ensure all these considerations are taken on board, together with how rent increases will be addressed.
* “Although the Deregulation Act was supposed to put a stop to ‘retaliatory’ evictions, in practice this has proven to be more bark than bite. Local authorities simply do not have the resources to pursue landlords who have failed to comply with their legal responsibilities,” according to the president of the Law Society of England and Wales, Christina Blacklaws.