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Will ‘No-Fault Eviction’ Reform Really Mean ‘Not Fair’ To Landlords?

With private rented accommodation now accounting for almost one-fifth of all English households (English Housing Survey Headline Report 2017-18), it’s perhaps unsurprising that the Government maintains a keen interest in those who live in it.

In November 2017, faced with an increasing proportion of individuals unable to buy their own homes, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond used his Budget to outline plans for a consultation on how best to remove the barriers to longer tenancies.

It’s fair to say that the consultation on the proposals, which took place last summer (Overcoming The Barriers To Longer Tenancies In The Private Rented Sector), was always going to be determined by what is regarded in some quarters as a tension between the rights of the tenant and the landlord.

The Government’s response has arguably done little to undo that perception.

Communities Secretary James Brokenshire has announced that he intends to invite further views on how best to abolish what are known as ‘no-fault’ evictions (Government Announces End To Unfair Evictions).

Under the rules as they stand, landlords can issue tenants with something called a Section 21 notice (as in Section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act), giving them two months’ notice to leave their rented accommodation at the end of a fixed-term tenancy.

They don’t necessarily need to have rent arrears or have damaged the property in question to justify their being asked to move out.

In branding the initiative as “the biggest change to the private rental sector in a generation”, Mr Brokenshire’s remarks made it clear that he regarded Section 21 evictions as “unfair”, a view disputed by those representing the nation’s residential landlords.

Not even a caveat – acknowledging that the “vast majority of landlords are responsible property owners who provide quality homes and services for their tenants” – seems to have been enough to soothe landlords’ frustrations.

That’s because the National Landlords’ Association argues the proposed changes undermine all of its members and not just those who behave in an allegedly unscrupulous fashion.

In a robust reply, the NLA went so far as to indicate that the Government would effectively create “indefinite tendencies by the back door” (Onus On Government To Avoid Chaos In The Courts - NLA).

Furthermore, it claimed that many landlords only resorted to using Section 21 because attempts to regain possession of property from those in default by alternative legal provision (Section 8 of the Housing Act) were often “slow, costly and inefficient”.

The tone was clear: fix the court system in order to allow swifter repossession where appropriate (something which the NLA noted had been achieved in Scotland before it abolished its version of Section 21) or face “chaos”.

If the Association’s language seems forceful, it’s worth bearing in mind that these latest plans are not the only changes suggested which have been viewed as putting even more pressure on landlords already squeezed by the introduction of Stamp Duty surcharges.

In two months’ time, new legislation – the Tenant Fees Act – comes into force. It applies only to the renewal of tenancy agreements but, for instance, restricts the size of deposit which can be taken.

There are cynics who – perish the thought – might view the Section 21 announcement as a convenient and compassionate project of appeal to those among the renting population who are eligible to vote in what might turn out to be a General Election year.

It should also be borne in mind that an eye-catching statement does not alter the dynamic in the rental sector immediately. 

The Government is due to publish its conclusions soon following yet another consultation, this time on whether there should be a new, specialist Housing Court to deal with disputes between landlords and their tenants. 

With much opinion-taking done and more to follow, it is unlikely that any change in relation to Section 21 procedures will happen in the very near future. 

If we were to consider all of the developments desired by ministers as one, there could well be a lengthy delay – in years rather than months – before they begin to impact on those renting or renting out private accommodation in any practical way.

Pierre Vannerem