The Government has confirmed a commitment to abolishing the “no fault” section 21 notice procedure through the Renters Reform Bill.
Current Procedure to recover possession
At the moment, there are various ways in which a landlord can obtain possession of their property which has been rented to tenants under assured shorthold tenancies through the existing Section 8 and Section 21 notice procedures under the Housing Act 1988. Where a landlord wants to serve a section 8 notice they must demonstrate that one of the grounds for possession applies.
Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 enables private landlords to repossess their properties from assured shorthold tenants (ASTs) at the end of the fixed term without having to establish fault on the part of the tenant (subject to private landlords having complied with the requirements for serving a section 21 notice). Hence it is sometimes referred to as the ‘no-fault’ ground for eviction.
Abolition of section 21 evictions
The Government have now confirmed that, through the Renters Reform Bill, section 21 notices will be abolished. This may present a problem to private landlords who are looking to sell their property and need vacant possession in order to do so. If, for instance, the tenant in situ has not committed any breaches of the tenancy agreement / the landlord cannot satisfy any of the grounds for possession under section 8, without the section 21 procedure at their disposal, on the face of it, a landlord may face difficulties obtaining vacant possession of a property if there are no grounds for possession under Section 8.
New mandatory ground to recover possession for landlords intending to sell their property
However, the Government has announced that a new ground for possession will be inserted into the section 8 procedure, making it possible for landlords to evict their tenants if they intend to sell the property.
The Government have confirmed that the new section 8 ground will be a ‘mandatory’ ground- meaning that if a Judge is satisfied that the ground is made out, possession must be granted.
However, even with the addition of this new ground, the abolition of the section 21 procedure (and presumably, the accelerated possession procedure) could result in significant delays for landlords obtaining possession of their property.
There is also a possibility that the Government will introduce a requirement that all section 8 notices become subject to the requirement that the deposit must have been protected in a Government authorised scheme and the prescribed information served. At this stage, it is also not yet clear whether the other requirements which apply to the service of a section 21 possession procedure (EPC, Gas Safety Certificate and How to Rent Guide) will also be imposed on the section 8 possession procedure.
Evidence required to prove intention to sell
As yet, it is unclear what evidence will be required on the part of landlords to prove that they are intending to sell the Property. The Renters Reform Bill will elaborate in due course; however it is unclear whether simply listing the Property for sale will be enough to satisfy this ground. The problem with this is that seemingly, once having been granted vacant possession a Landlord could simply take the Property off the market and grant a new tenancy.
The Government’s response to the consultation on the section 21 procedure does make it clear, however, that the notice period for this new ground would be two months, and notice could not be given in the first 6 months of a new tenancy. The response also states that as a protective measure, the Government would “prevent the original landlord marketing and reletting the Property for 3 months following the use of this ground.”
The White Paper also goes on to elaborate that landlords seeking to find loopholes “will not be tolerated” and the Government are considering the need for “new or strengthened penalties to support existing measures, including the power for councils to issue Civil Penalties Notices for offences related to the new tenancy system. We will also explore how to help local councils tackling illegal evictions.”
It seems clear that the future of evictions is set to change quite considerably. It would seem that along with abolishing the section 21 notice, so too will the accelerated possession procedure be scrapped. For private landlords with relatively straightforward possession claims, this may cause delays in obtaining possession of their properties.
This is not the only change proposed by the Renters Reform Bill. It also proposes to create a register of landlords, introduce a private rented ombudsman to deal with landlord and tenant disputes, to make it illegal for landlords and agents to refuse applications for tenancies from prospective tenants on the basis that they are in receipt of benefits and will grant further powers to local authorities to protect and enforce renters’ rights.
RFB will publish further articles on these proposed changes over the coming months. The Government has indicated that the Renters Reform Bill will be voted on before May 2023 and it is vital that landlords, agents, and tenants are prepared for its introduction into law to ensure a smooth transition into the new rental market.