Last week, BBC One aired a Panorama documentary examining unfair treatment of tenants by landlords, with interviews with renters who had been evicted through what was described as “no-fault” evictions. But what are the rules behind Section 21?
The documentary, titled Evicted for no reason, looked at a number of people “whose lives had been plunged into chaos by their landlords” after they had been made the subject of Section 21 eviction notices and forced to move out of their private rented accommodation. While the programme also spoke to landlords, it portrayed a very unbalanced market where landlords could very easily and unfairly remove tenants from their properties.
Most tenants sign six-month or one-year contracts at the start of their tenancies – assured shorthold tenancy agreements – which includes information on rent, deposits, the start and end of tenancy, whether it can be ended early, and whether the property can be sublet, among other things.
However, it seems that regaining possession of a property is not as straightforward as some might believe. Under certain grounds, a landlord can seek to regain possession under Section 8, while Section 21 means a landlord does not have to give any reasons, provided the fixed term has expired, but the process can be complex.
What is Section 21?
If a landlord wishes to regain their property, they must give a tenant at least two months’ notice in writing of their intention – or where the tenancy was started after 1 October 2015, a Form 6a must be used. If the tenancy is ‘periodic’, the notice can be given during the course of the tenancy. No written reason is required to be given to use a Section 21 notice, as it can be for a range of reasons including selling the property or evicting in order to carry out repairs or improvements.
Landlords are encouraged to keep proof of their notice, by including a certification of service form, or writing “served by [your name] on [the date]” on the notice, in order to increase their chances of successfully evicting the tenant – but there are still no guarantees.
There are a number of conditions which mean that a Section 21 notice cannot be issued, including if it is less than 6 months since the start of the tenancy, if the property is an unlicensed HMO, or if you haven’t provided your tenants with copies of the EPC, gas safety certificate or the government’s How to Rent guide.
A controversial issue
It all sounds quite straightforward, but if a tenant refuses to leave, the landlord must then apply to the courts for a possession order, and a warrant for eviction. The tenant can also make a request to the court that they be allowed to stay in the property for longer, which can cause the procedure to continue for a number of months.
The Panorama documentary has been criticised by some industry insiders as an unfair and biased portrayal of “rogue” landlords, with landlord campaigner Dr Rosalind Beck writing in a blog: “Whilst it was nice that they showed a landlord, Frances Carpenter…it would have been more representative and even-handed to profile four landlords alongside the four profiled tenants, and show the extreme financial loss and stress experienced very often by landlords – and not choose someone who was facing fairly trivial tenant problems.”
RLA policy director David Smith added: “Faced with emotional stories of the kind likely to appear on [the BBC’s Panorama], it is important that debate on security in rented housing is grounded in firm evidence.
“Most tenancies are ended by the tenant, rather than the landlord…The vast majority of landlords have no interest in getting rid of any tenant who respects the property and pays their rent.”