Earlier this year, a lobbying group Generation Rent called on the government to scrap Section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act. This legislation gives landlords the right to evict tenants at the end of a fixed-term tenancy. Since then the campaign has gained momentum and I’m increasingly concerned. I welcome debate on this, but wonder if chipping away at the rights of hard-pressed landlords could push them too far.
Understanding the debate
Those opposing Section 21 say that it weakens tenant rights and causes anxiety, rent rises, unstable communities and homelessness. It's certainly the case that eviction without due cause can cause significant fear and stress, particularly among older tenants. I fully recognise these concerns, but question whether we can really lay the blame with landlords alone.
Housing shortages and rising property prices aren’t the result of tenant evictions, and even if we accept that tenants deserve more safeguards, axing Section 21 completely seems like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. After all, just as reliable tenants should feel secure in their homes, landlords deserve the support of the law in combatting rent arrears and removing problem tenants.
The importance of Section 21
Opponents of Section 21 often label it as ‘no fault’ eviction, primarily because it can be used at the end of fixed-term tenancies even if the tenant did nothing wrong. But just because landlords don’t have to prove wrongdoing doesn’t mean they’re evicting tenants for no reason. Landlords evict tenants in less than 10% of cases, and repeatedly indicate that they’d prefer stable, long-term tenants to constant change. So it seems unfair to suggest they’re keen to kick tenants out.
In many cases the end of a fixed tenancy period represents an essential window for landlords to reclaim damaged property and seek more reliable tenants. This is crucial for landlords unable to use Section 8 to evict late payers as they didn't set up a lease specifying rent payment dates at the start of the tenancy. Similarly some landlords have been unable to evict nuisance tenants under Section 8 as the damage caused to their property does not break specific lease terms. I believe these situations, where evictions should be allowed under the spirit of Section 8 but are not allowed by the letter of the law, should be addressed before we axe Section 21.
Finding a balance
Changes effective from 1 October 2018 will add new restrictions on how landlords use Section 21. These include much-needed safeguards against so-called ‘revenge evictions’, preventing landlords from evicting tenants following unresolved maintenance complaints.
To me, it seems more logical to continue to refine the rights laid out in Section 21, rather than eliminate it altogether. But whether that happens or the Generation Rent campaign is successful, the government must be ready to give landlords fresh powers to deal with problem tenants who inhabit those grey areas of Section 8.
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