Is this goodbye to ‘no fault evictions’?

Are you a private landlord or private tenant in England? If so you will no doubt be interested to know that the Government has launched a consultation exercise on “no-fault evictions” in England. A no-fault eviction is where a landlord evicts a tenant who has not breached any of the conditions of the tenancy but the landlord nonetheless decides to re-possess the property.

As the law stands at the moment, in many cases a landlord can re-possess a property subject to an assured shorthold tenancy on a no-fault basis by giving the tenant two months’ notice under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 (a “section 21 notice”). The landlord does not have to give any reason for this.

Typically, a tenancy agreement will last for an initial period of six months or one year. After that the landlord is able to serve a section 21 notice if they want to, and many people (including some Government ministers) think that this is unfair. Good tenants who abide by the terms of their tenancy agreement, but in the knowledge that the landlord can serve a section 21 notice at any time, do not have much sense of security.

But things may not be quite this simple. As landlords’ representatives have pointed out, a section 21 notice may be the best method of evicting a bad tenant who has not abided by the tenancy agreement, the reason being that eviction proceedings on the basis of non-compliance with the tenancy agreement (requiring service of a section 8 notice) are costly and slow.

The Government’s intention is to abolish no-fault evictions in their present form, and thus improve and strengthen the position of tenants – and indeed this is one of a number of reforms in this area.

But it looks as though the Government is also taking on board the legitimate interests of landlords. Housing Secretary James Brokenshire said that evidence showed that Section 21 evictions were one of the biggest causes of family homelessness and that the present regime inhibited tenants from making complaints through fear that they might be evicted on a no-fault basis. But he also said that the Government plans to create “speedy redress” for landlords who want to re-possess their property for legitimate reasons.

Examples of legitimate reasons might be that the landlord wants to live in the property or sell the property, and the Government is also looking at strengthening and streamlining powers under section 8. Legitimate reasons would need to be demonstrated with a “concrete, evidenced reason already specified in law”, but the Government is evidently trying to take a balanced approach.

The Prime Minister Theresa May also lent her voice, to the effect that everyone renting in the private sector has “the right to feel secure in their home, settled in their community and able to plan for the future with confidence. This is wrong – and today we’re acting by preventing these unfair evictions. Landlords will still be able to end tenancies where they have legitimate reasons to do so, but they will no longer be able to unexpectedly evict families with only eight weeks’ notice. This important step will not only protect tenants from unethical behaviour, but also give them the long-term certainty and the peace of mind they deserve.”

But Richard Lambert, CEO of the National Landlords Association, seemed unenthusiastic about the Government’s proposals, but his lack of enthusiasm was nuanced. He said that any new legislation would cause “chaos” if not well thought out and he praised the Scottish model. Scotland has had legislation of the proposed type in force since 2017, and in this respect he said: “The government should look to Scotland, where they reformed the court system before thinking about changing how tenancies work”.

So perhaps if the Government can get it right they will not leave landlords feeling disgruntled. Those affected in Wales will be interested to know that the Welsh government are looking into bringing in similar legislation, but there are no plans at present for Northern Ireland.

When these proposals eventually become law what will they say exactly, how effective will they be and how much difference will they make? We wait with bated breath.