What’s the Problem With Section 21?
Section 21 is the short name of the housing act legislation that allows landlords to repossess their homes from tenants without proving breach of contract. Section 21 (s.21) is criticised by housing charities as a legal device landlords use to evict tenants at short notice in revenge for complaints about living standards.
To evict a tenant under s.21, the landlord does not have to prove any fault against the tenant. In April 2019, the government pledged to abolish s.21 following a consultation that ended in October 2018.
So far, no new legislation has been forthcoming, although the government has promised a Rent Reform Bill doing away with Section 21 is due in 2022 - as it was last year and the year before.
Section 21 v Section 8
Section 21 and Section 8 are different sides of the same coin and refer to sections of the Housing Act 1988. A Section 8 eviction involves proving a renter has broken the tenancy agreement terms for specific reasons, such as failing to pay the rent, anti-social behaviour or damaging their home.
Not having to prove the facts of a case can make a Section 21 eviction faster and cheaper than a Section 8 eviction, which means they are favoured by landlords and letting agents.
How does a Section 21 eviction work?
To gain a section 21 eviction, a landlord serves an s.21 notice (form 6A) on the tenant, giving the statutory minimum of two months’ notice in England. In Wales, the notice period is currently six months and subject to review under emergency coronavirus powers.
From 15 July 2022, the equivalent replacement notice will be a minimum of 6 months permanently in Wales. In England, many requirements need to be in place before section 21 can be served, including the How to rent guide, deposit protection, gas safety and EPC. Similar provisions will be in place soon for Wales under the Renting Homes Act. If the tenant fails to leave by the date in the notice, the landlord can ask a court for a possession order.
The court will automatically grant the order, providing the landlord has followed the correct s.21 process and the tenant offers no defence. Accelerated possessions apply if a tenant served a Section 21 notice doesn’t leave by the date specified in the notice, and other conditions such as a written tenancy agreement are met.
How many tenants are evicted?
The Ministry of Justice keeps detailed statistics relating to eviction cases that go before the courts. However, they do not differentiate between Section 8 and Section 21 cases. In 2019, the courts handled 23,220 possession cases, falling to 12,150 in 2020 due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Accelerated possession claims numbered 18,320 claims and 8,100 repossessions in 2019, dipping to 8,740 claims and 1,830 repossessions in the following year. In 2019, a Section 21 claim took 7.3 weeks to process as far as a repossession order, although eviction could take up to an extra ten weeks.
Section 21 and the growth of buy to let
Since the private rented sector in England was deregulated in 1988, the market has spiralled from around 9 per cent of households to almost 20 per cent since 2013-14, says data from the House of Commons Library.
Section 21 is accredited as one of the primary reasons for the growth,, thanks to the law giving confidence to landlords that they could repossess their homes when they wished. The statistics show around 4.4 million homes are privately rented in England.
Section 21 and homelessness
The evidence is not clear if Section 21 notices constitute a significant cause of homelessness. The response seems to depend on the political allegiance of housing commentators, think tanks and housing charities.
Organisations like charity Shelter pillory landlords for making tenants homeless, while the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) has evidence tenants are most likely to trigger s.21 when they want to leave their homes. The House of Commons report into Section 21 airs the views of both sides.
What the government says
The government released consultation results and issued a media release in April 2019 stating the intention to abolish Section 21 no-fault evictions. The documents explain that the government wanted to give ‘greater peace of mind’ to families worried they would lose their homes at short notice.
The consultation said: “As part of a complete overhaul of the sector, the government has outlined plans to consult on new legislation to abolish Section 21 evictions – so called ‘no-fault’ evictions.
“This will bring an end to private landlords uprooting tenants from their homes with as little as 8 weeks’ notice after the fixed-term contract has come to an end. This will effectively create open-ended tenancies, bringing greater peace of mind to millions of families who live in rented accommodation.
“Many tenants live with the worry of being evicted at short notice or continue to live in poor accommodation for fear they will be asked to leave if they complain about problems with their home.”
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A tenancy of someone's home, starting on or after 28 February 1997, will in most cases be an assured shorthold tenancy. Take advice early if there are any doubts about what type of tenancy is being terminated. The procedures for ending a tenancy are different, depending on the type of tenancy.