It's finally here! After announcing in April its intention to abolish Section 21, the government has published its proposals for making this happen.
We've been through the consultation document, which is open for responses until 12 October, and here's a quickish summary of what's in it.
We'll be preparing our own response, but we also want to hear what you think. And most importantly, we're looking at how to make it easy for renters to respond and make sure the government does this right.
First, a quick word about what we want to see from the abolition of Section 21:
- minimal unwanted moves
- minimal hardship for tenants who face unwanted moves
- more confidence to complain about disrepair and mistreatment
The government agrees with us that the threat of an eviction that you can't challenge leaves renters feeling "perpetually vulnerable" and this "potentially erodes trust" between tenants and their landlords. But they also want to make sure that landlords are comfortable with the changes, so they have proposed a series of adjustments for "any circumstances where a tenancy should be ended without the tenant being at fault".
Here's what the proposals look like:
No more Assured Shorthold Tenancies
Instead of the 6- or 12-month ASTs most of us are on, private tenancies will either be "fixed term assured tenancies" or "contractual periodic assured tenancies". You could either agree a fixed term where you couldn't move out and the landlord couldn't evict you on no-fault grounds, or a rolling contract where you could give 1 month's notice but the landlord could use no-fault grounds.
Rents could still rise year on year, but only if agreed as part of fixed term contracts or if the landlord applies using Section 13 - this can be challenged at a Tribunal. However, this would not give tenants much protection if local rents had been rising faster than their incomes and their landlord wanted to force them out - the Tribunal currently decides what reasonable rent is based on the open market and the tenant can like it or lump it. Tenants need much stronger protection from unreasonable rent rises.
Existing protections from Section 21
Currently you can be protected from a Section 21 eviction if your landlord has flouted the law in certain ways, including failing to fix hazards (as long as your council has served them with an improvement notice), not protecting your deposit, or not providing a gas safety certificate. The government says these protections will be carried over to the new regime.
Grounds for eviction - no-fault
Without Section 21, landlords must prove their grounds for eviction, under Section 8 and Schedule 2 of the Housing Act 1988. This covers tenant fault grounds such as rent arrears and anti-social behaviour, along with some no-fault grounds, such as the landlord moving back in or refurbishment.
The government wants to add selling up to these grounds, and allow landlords to evict to allow family members can move in. The government also suggests removing the requirement that the landlord previously lived in the home.
The proposals recognise the need for safeguards to prevent abuse. They reckon requiring the landlord to give prior notice to the tenant that they may eventually sell or move in themselves, and preventing the clauses from being used in the first two years of the tenancy, to do the job.
However, eviction shouldn't be the go-to when a landlord wants to move back in or sell - they have other options: rent somewhere else themselves, and sell with tenants in situ (or to the tenants themselves). The government should be encouraging these alternatives, not letting landlords turf out tenants who've done nothing wrong and let them pick up the pieces. At the very least, landlords in this situation should cover the tenants' relocation costs - which is already a condition of Ground 6, to evict in order to refurbish.
Grounds for eviction - tenant fault
The government also proposes to strengthen the grounds for eviction when the tenant has broken the terms of the tenancy:
- the landlord could serve 2 weeks' notice if the tenant is in 2 months' rent arrears, and the court would approve the eviction if the tenant still had at least 1 month's arrears or if the landlord could prove a pattern of arrears being paid off on 3 occasions.
- landlords set certain tenancy terms which would make it easy to prove anti-social behaviour in court. The risk here is that unscrupulous landlords set draconian terms that tenants cannot easily challenge, whether in court or in their communications with the landlord.
- the ground for evicting someone convicted of domestic abuse would be changed to take account of the victim's needs
- tenants who obstruct "the landlord in carrying out their duties in relation to their safety responsibilities" could now face eviction. Unscrupulous landlords could invent numerous ways to abuse such a ground, so this would need to be designed carefully.
One suggestion is that some grounds for possession don't need a hearing and can be decided based on written submissions. It is essential that tenants are able to challenge eviction grounds so we'll be making sure that this suggestion doesn't become another way for bad landlords to abuse the system.
"Specialist" grounds for eviction
The government is also looking at exemptions for student, agricultural and religious housing, and providers of homes with certain eligibility criteria (e.g. homes for key workers). There is also the big question of Airbnb and what the cut-off for short term lets should be.
While we are closer to a fair rental market than we were when the government published its initial proposals last year - for 3-year tenancies at the landlord's discretion - these proposals still fall short of what renters need. By creating easy exemptions for landlords who want to sell up or move in we won't see a significant fall in evictions, and unwanted moves will continue to be as stressful as before. Under these proposals, tenants should have more confidence to complain - but only if there is no opportunity for the landlord to abuse the eviction process or raise the rent unreasonably.
Renters need to push the government to go much further - and that means each of us responding to the consultation individually.
Generation Rent is working on how to make it easy to respond, writing our own response and gathering experiences of renters to feed into this. We'll be sharing our thoughts as we go.