SECTION 21 REFORM: NO NEED TO PANIC
Published 5 June 2019
Here’s a tip for when you are reading news papers: always look beyond the headlines. It is, of course, the job of the headline writer to draw in the reader, and so the temptation towards exaggeration, hyperbole or plain untruths can sometimes be overwhelming. Thus many headlines fail to convey accurately the story beneath them.
A good example of this has been the screaming banners proclaiming that the government is to abolish Section 21 of the Housing Act, effectively putting an end to ‘no-fault’ evictions, and implying tenants have the right to stay more or less forever. The little discussed element is that the process is under consultation and, if passed, is unlikely to come into effect until 2021.
These headlines have caused some considerable alarm amongst the residential landlord community – fortunately the truth is rather more prosaic, and the responsible landlord has little to fear from the new proposals (which may not go as far as abolishing Section 21 anyway).
Currently, Section 21 is criticised by tenant groups because it allows apparently unscrupulous landlords to evict what they perceive as problem tenants for no good reason. The root of those ‘problems’ may be that the tenant is asking for outstanding repairs to be carried out, or standing up for their legal rights in some other way. However there is a system already in place to safeguard against retaliatory eviction so this feeling is unfounded.
The vast majority of landlords would agree that using Section 21 in this manner is wrong but the fear is that the backlash against the minority who use Section 21 in this way will make it either difficult or impossible for responsible landlords to take possession of their property when there is a good reason.
This concern is exacerbated by the perceived weakness of Section 8, the piece of legislation which is intended to deal with tenants who breach their tenancy agreements, for example by getting into rent arrears. With the result that many landlords have become wedded to Section 21, seeing it as a good backstop for when Section 8 fails them.
The good news is that behind the fearmongering headlines is a rather more palatable truth: landlords will still be able to regain possession of their property when there is a good reason (and those reasons include wanting to sell the property, refurbish it or move back in themselves).
The government is promising to beef up the Section 8 process to allow landlords to do this, and there are also plans to reform the process so that bad tenants can’t take advantage of loopholes to circumvent their responsibilities. What’s more, ministers are promising to make the court process quicker and easier.
All of this will mean that landlords who have a good, evidenced reason for wanting to take back their property will be able to do so – the reforms will simply mean that less responsible landlords will no longer be able to evict a tenant just because they ‘don’t like them’.
Whilst this is undoubtedly part of a general rebalancing of the legal playing field between landlords and tenants, good landlords and letting agents will welcome the move, because it will result in tools which are fit for purpose and which are fair for landlords and tenants alike.
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