Changes to rules on notices seeking possession – proposed abolition of s.21

The proposal by the Government to abolish the “no fault” route to obtaining possession of rented residential property made the headlines in April 2019. The proposals followed a Government consultation on the possible introduction of three year tenancies; incidentally, the majority of tenants who responded favoured five year or unlimited tenancies.

The responses highlighted concerns from tenants that short fixed-term tenancies where the landlord is able to evict them without any reason after the fixed term expires meant that they weren’t able to feel secure in their homes; they were unable to plan for the future, provide stability for their children, or even just call where they live their home.

As a result, the Government has decided to abolish the “no fault” route to obtaining possession under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988. The Government has said that it will consult further on that decision.

Landlords have voiced concerns that this will leave them in some difficulties; the other route to obtaining lawful possession, under section 8 of the Housing Act 1988, is often said to be difficult to use, as it requires certain matters (such as default on rent payments) to be proved at Court. They therefore find the s.21 procedure to be quicker and more reliable.

The Government in their paper (which can be found here) has said that they intend to balance the removal of s.21 with additional measures to ensure that landlords can obtain possession if their circumstances change, by digitising the Court process for possession claims, and by “freeing up” bailiffs to concentrate on possession claims once a possession order has been granted and needs to be enforced (nothing seems to be mentioned about providing sufficient resources to ensure that bailiffs can cover all of the work they are required to do).

The additional grounds for possession under s.8 proposed would be to enable possession to be given if the landlord wants to move back into the property, or if the landlord wishes to sell the property with vacant possession. It is not yet known what kind of evidence the Courts will require to be satisfied that a landlord intends to move back into a property or sell with vacant possession; it is hoped that some careful thought will be put into this.

In the meantime, (non-exhaustive) practical tips for landlords include:

  • Ensure that your paperwork is up to date – ensure tenancy agreements are signed prior to the start of each tenancy, keep annual gas safety certificates to hand, ensure you have evidence of deposit protection, and evidence of prescribed information and the “How to rent” booklet being given to the tenant;
  • Ensure that you are licensed if your property is in a selective licensing zone, or if you operate a House of Multiple Occupation that requires licensing;
  • Ensure that you have effective systems in place for monitoring rent payments, and requesting payment if it is late;
  • Keep your tenants reasonably happy, to reduce void periods and costs of finding new tenants;
  • Promptly seek advice if you are unsure of how to deal with a situation.

This article is not a substitute for independent legal advice, and is provided as a guide only. If you are unsure of your legal position, you should seek specialist advice straight away.

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