The government has done a dramatic U-turn on plans to abolish no-fault evictions – following extensive protests by landlord organisations.
A controversial pledge to scrap the Section 21 notice as part of the Renters Reform Bill appears to have been put on the back burner for now.
The idea was first promised in 2019 as part of the Conservatives’ election manifesto. Aimed at preventing landlords from evicting tenants without a reason, it was widely expected to become law this year.
The plans were welcomed by tenants’ organisations, but landlords said it could lead to the rental sector shrinking at a time when there was already a shortage of affordable housing.
Following extensive lobbying led by the National Residential Landlords’ Association, the government has delayed the abolition of no-fault evictions.
What is no-fault eviction?
Under Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, renters can be evicted from their home without being given a specific reason. The landlord must give them a minimum of two months’ notice.
Section 21 evictions have been a controversial topic for decades. Some tenants’ groups argue that they create uncertainty, stress and instability for people in the private rental sector. They claim some landlords take advantage of the legislation by evicting tenants who are asking for costly renovations, rather than spending extra money on their properties.
Currently, landlords are empowered to evict renters following the initial fixed term of their tenancy agreement without having to provide a reason for the decision.
Shelter had been calling for no-fault evictions to be banned as soon as possible: almost 30% of older renters live in fear of eviction, with UK tenants aged over 55 being served with a no-fault eviction notice every 16 minutes, according to the charity, which says many private renters are vulnerable to housing insecurity and even homelessness as a result.
However, the NRLA has long argued that scrapping the Section 21 legislation will prove disastrous for landlords of buy-to-let properties and for the private rental sector in general.
Currently, it takes more than six months for a court to process landlords’ possession claims when they have a good cause to evict problem tenants, such as anti-social behaviour or rent arrears. The NRLA claimed that until faster court processes were introduced, abolishing Section 21 would make the situation impossible for many landlords, who would simply leave the sector altogether. At a time when tenants are struggling to find rental properties due to a general shortage, this would negatively impact the market.
In a further boost for landlords, the government has confirmed it will introduce new grounds for possession for student rentals. Changes in the Renters Reform Bill come after a report by the cross-party Housing Select Committee backed the NRLA’s calls to help landlords more. The landlords’ group had protested that without changing the Bill, the student housing sector could decrease dramatically in future.
Proposals to scrap fixed term tenancies meant there would be no guarantees student properties would be vacated and ready for new tenants at the start of each academic year. In theory, the current crop of students could stay there indefinitely, even after leaving university.
The government has agreed with the NRLA’s views and has pledged to introduce grounds for possession that will allow a yearly cycle of short-term student rentals. This will mean new students can sign up for a tenancy in advance, knowing for sure they will have somewhere to live when they start university the following academic year.
The government has confirmed the abolition of no-fault evictions will be put on hold until “sufficient progress” has been made to improve the system to alleviate the current long delays suffered by landlords. Housing Secretary Michael Gove says it is “vital” to update the justice system first. He told Conservative MPs the ban on no-fault evictions can’t be introduced until the court system that landlords use to reclaim their buy-to-let properties is more efficient.
NRLA chief executive Ben Beadle has welcomed news of the U-turn, saying reforming the rental market will work only if responsible landlords, as well as tenants, have confidence in the changes. However, Labour MPs have accused Conservatives of “kicking the delayed proposals into the long grass”, amid claims any legal reforms will “take years” to complete.