The end of no-fault evictionsPosted: 24th April 2019
In 2017-18 the number of households in England housing themselves by renting from a private landlord was 4.5 million, or 19% of all households. For nearly one in five families, their right to carry on living in their home, and the quality of the accommodation they live in, depends intimately on the framework of laws governing the private rented sector.
For most private tenants in England this framework is provided by an AST – an Assured Shorthold Tenancy. It’s so common that it’s easy to forget that any other system might exist, and indeed the AST has been the main vehicle for private renting for over 30 years. It was in 1987 that Mrs. Thatcher’s government set out in a White Paper far-reaching reforms to the then-regime governing private residential rental: according to the White Paper, the aim of the new legislation was to reverse the decline in rented housing and improve its quality, and to encourage home ownership. The vehicle for these reforms was the Housing Act 1988, with its crucial s.21, giving landlords power to recover possession of their property without having to prove any sort of default by the tenant – under s.21 the landlord could simply serve notice and two months later the tenant had to leave. It was intended to incentivise the private rental sector, and this was exactly what happened.
The force of s.21 has been chipped away in recent years by legislation restricting its use only to landlords who can show that they have complied with the myriad of regulations binding on them, from lodging the tenant’s deposit with an authorised scheme, to the regular provision of a gas certificate. Tenant advocacy organisations, however, have argued that the existence of s. 21 still means that a private tenant can never feel settled in their home, be confident that they will be able to remain near their work or children’s schools, or be encouraged to contribute to their community and neighbourhood. No fault evictions key directly in to the growing homelessness problem – in September 2017 the Department for Communities and Local Government reported that the ending of private sector tenancies was the biggest single cause of statutory homelessness.
For all these reasons, the pendulum has swung back in the direction of tenant protection. On 15th April the government announced its intention to abolish s. 21 and to launch a consultation as to a new open-ended tenancy to replace the fixed terms which are normal under the Housing Act. Theresa May has said that this will give tenants “long-term certainty and the peace of mind they deserve”.
Tenants’ organisations such as Generation Rent are jubilant, while landlords worry that the delays involved in obtaining possession on fault grounds such as arrears of rent will make it even more difficult to end a tenancy when things go wrong. What is certain is that it’s the biggest shake-up in the private rental sector in thirty years. As ever the devil will be in the detail, and the delicate balance between landlord and tenant will depend on small points of drafting – there will no doubt be much discussion and indeed controversy before the final form of the new legislation is agreed.
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