Two years ago today on 15 April 2019, the then-Secretary of State for Housing, James Brokenshire, announced that the government would abolish Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions. We had been campaigning for decades for this moment, to help bring security to the 11 million people in England who rent privately. Two years on and we’re still waiting for this pledge – despite Boris Johnson echoing it in the last election manifesto.
In the 2019 Queen’s Speech, the government promised us a Renters’ Reform Bill to overhaul the sector for good, as we talked about in part one of this series. In this blog, we’re going to talk about why Section 21 needs to be scrapped and how doing so will make the private rented sector better.
What is a Section 21 notice?
It’s an eviction notice that landlords can serve which provides no reason for the eviction, giving the renter just two months to leave their home. It can be served at any time after a fixed term has expired.
As a result, renters constantly live in fear of eviction. The fear of losing their home forces renters to accept poor conditions in their homes. They’ll also accept anything from negligence to harassment from their landlords, because they’re too scared of being served a Section 21 if they raise an issue. There isn’t a limitless supply of properties to enable a renter to skip off and live somewhere else. We’re living through a housing emergency. This means renters are often trapped; living in and paying for substandard housing. They’re afraid to complain about basic safety problems and get the decent home they’re paying for.
This is not simply a theory. The English Housing Survey found that nearly a quarter of homes in the PRS are considered ‘non-decent’. That means they have a serious hazard, such as risk of the property collapsing or electrical hazards, as identified by the Housing Health and Safety Rating System. They don’t otherwise provide a reasonable standard of repair, maintain a reasonable temperature or have reasonably modern facilities and services. No one in the private rental sector (PRS) wants to live in an unsafe home. And the Fitness for Human Habitation Act means that, legally, no one should have to. But because of these ‘no fault’ evictions, tenants can’t enforce their rights and demand better conditions because they’re scared of being thrown out.
Section 8 notices
Without Section 21, landlords will only be able to evict tenants where there is a legal reason to evict. Sounds reasonable, right? This means they would serve a Section 8 notice, which stipulates the reason for the eviction. Whether the reason is that the landlord wants to sell the property, move back in, or because the tenant is in rent arrears, they could all be covered by Section 8.
By abolishing Section 21, we’ll see a fight for more grounds for eviction being inserted into Section 8. The government must ensure that it commits to the objective of removing Section 21, which is to improve security for those living in the PRS, and not allow easy routes for eviction through Section 8. There must be a sufficiently high bar of evidence for landlords to prove that their reasons for the eviction are true and justified. When we’re talking about renters losing their homes, the stakes couldn’t be higher. The evidence bar must reflect that.
Right now, many landlords say that they use Section 21 evictions because it’s quicker than going through court proceedings with a Section 8 notice. In a post-Section 21 world, the court system must be adequately resourced so that possession cases can move efficiently through the process. This will improve the experience for both landlords and renters.
Today doesn’t just mark the second anniversary of the government’s promise to scrap Section 21. It’s also the launch day for the Renters’ Reform Coalition, of which we’re proud to be a member. We stand united with 20 other housing and homelessness campaigning groups and charities to push for a Renters’ Reform Bill that will give all private renters the security and rights they deserve.
The Renters’ Reform Bill presents a real opportunity to scrap Section 21 and give renters the security they deserve. Next week, we’ll talk about how the bill also provides the chance to improve conditions and drive up enforcement in the PRS.
Enough is enough: sign our petition to demand better from renting.