Is This the End of the Section 21 Notice?

After being announced in December 2019, the rental industry has been in joint apprehension regarding the abolition of the section 21 notice. Few subjects are as polarising in the rental landscape, with landlords trying to retain control over their rental property, whilst tenants seek additional security surrounding their tenancies. Recent amendments to notice periods introduced by the Coronavirus Act 2020 intended to grant tenants this additional security have only worked to exacerbate the issue. Yes, whilst this initiative undeniably prevented thousands of potential evictions, throughout this period rental property owners have claimed that there wasn’t enough distinction between the tenants that couldn’t pay their rent, and problem tenants that took advantage of the situation.  

Whilst these reforms are likely to be welcomed by tenants and campaign groups with open arms, landlords, letting agents and property investors have been left in the dark about the future of repossessing their rental property.

What Is a Section 21 Notice?

A section 21 notice is a way in which a landlord is able to reclaim their rental property from a tenant, evicting them in the process. This route of eviction is largely favoured by landlords as they believe it permits them control over what is essentially their investment, and a property they have poured time and effort into to say the least. This “control” comes with the nature of the section 21 notice as when being served by a landlord, unlike a section 8 notice, they are not required to give justification as to why the tenant must vacate the property. This is largely because when a tenant is served with a section 8 notice, the landlord is seeking to remove them from the rental property as they will have been found in breach of specific terms of the tenancy agreement. However, this is not the case when a landlord issues the occupants of the rental with a section 21 notice as they are simply stating that at the end of the fixed term they wish to reclaim possession of the rental property and not renew the tenancy.

Because of this lack of reasoning behind the notice, the section 21 notice has been branded the “no fault” eviction, with many campaign ground damming the procedure as one of the leading causes of homelessness in the UK.

If after the 2 month notice period offered to the tenant by the section 21 notice they are yet to vacate the rental property, the landlord is able to turn to the courts to empower them to remove the tenant. This will likely come in the form of a possession order, legally compelling the tenant to leave by a specified date. If after this deadline the tenant has still been reluctant to allow the landlord to repossess the property, bailiff enforcement is common practice.

Why Remove Section 21 Notices

As can be expected, and is the case with many of the government’s initiatives for the private rental sector, striking a middle ground that equally empowers both parties of the rental agreement is often simply unobtainable. Of course the section 21 notice is widely revered by many landlords at it allows them to simply regain possession of their rental property at the end of the rental period. However, over the last few years many tenant campaign grounds and effected renters have condemned the section 21 notice as a leading cause of homelessness, sinisterly branding the type of eviction notice as a fast track route to removing tenants, in often unwarranted circumstance.

However, the ease at which a landlord is able to reclaim possession of the rental property is not exclusively to remove “unwanted” tenants from the property, the application of the notice in most instances is far less malicious than the stigma surrounding the section 21 notice would imply. Whilst the intent behind the application of the notice could simply be that the owner wishes to move back into their rental property, making it their main residence, or simply to sell the property once the rental period has expired.

It goes without saying that the occupants of a rental property should feel secure in their choice of rental opportunity and not have to go through the duration of the tenancy with the fear of being evicted. Whilst recent months have seen multiple amendments to the amount of notice a landlord is required to provide to a tenant they intend to evict from a rental property thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak, under “normal” circumstance a tenant will have 2 months in which to vacate the property once a section 21 notice has been served at the end of the fixed term.  

Amendments to the Eviction Process

However, as mentioned many renters feel this amount of notice is insufficient, with the relative immediacy that they will be required to find new accommodation having a detrimental impact on the well-being of tenants. This can be a tall order to say the least, not only have the current occupants of the property required to find appropriate future accommodation by a deadline, something landlords may be able to empathise with in their fight to occupy a property at short notice to prevent void periods. But alongside this unforgiving time frame, tenants will also be expected to seamlessly navigate the financial burdens that can come with renting a property.  Naturally, they will be required to pay a holding deposit to reserve their preferred rental opportunity and take it off the common market, but also a security deposit, moving costs and final rental payments; all before they have had their original tenancy deposit returned, providing there are no deductions being made.

Whilst calls for the end to the section 21 notice are certainly not new, the consistent revisions to notice periods the last year or so has brought has placed the topic back under the scrutiny of the rental industry. However, if the section 21 notice was to be abolished, it could be argued that similar provisions would need to be put in place, albeit refined, as landlords would be largely left powerless to reclaim the possession of their property from a problem tenant.  This has already been firmly established by the UK government, as stated in their report, “Overcoming the barriers to longer tenancies in the private rented sector.”

“It will be important to find a balance between giving tenants greater security whilst ensuring landlords are able to recover their property if needed. We do not want to discourage investment in the sector or affect the supply of good quality rental accommodation.” The report further states that whilst landlords will still be able to reclaim possession of their rental property through implementing a section 8 notice, if there is sufficient grounds to do so , it will embellish the powers granted to landlords by the notice. “We will also strengthen the section 8 possession process, so property owners are able to regain their homes should they wish to sell it or move into it. These will be in addition to the existing grounds which allow landlords to evict tenants who don’t pay the rent or commit anti-social behaviour.”

What Makes a Section 21 Notice Invalid

Despite the proposed reforms to the eviction process first being revealed in 2019, rental property owners are still permitted to issue their tenants with a section 21 notice in order to regain possession of their rental. However, despite the popularity the notice holds with landlords, there are a number of circumstances that would seriously impeded their efforts of reclaiming their property from a tenant.

Perhaps somewhat obviously, but nevertheless poignant if any of the details comprising the section 21 notice are found to be inaccurate the notice will not be upheld and need to be re submitted with the correct information. This could be as simple as spelling the tenant’s name incorrectly, detailing a inaccurate rental period or getting the address of the rental wrong, whilst somewhat easily done on a bad day, will nonetheless leave the served section 21 notice largely redundant.  

Further to this if the landlord or letting agency have charged the occupants of the rental property excessive rental fees, administrative costs or other charges prohibited by the Tenant fees Act 2019, they will forfeit the right to serve their tenants a section 21 notice. With this being said, once the unlawfully taken amounts are returned to the tenants, the landlord will be able to pursue repossession.

Similarly, if it is found that the landlord has failed to enter any amounts taken from the tenants for the tenancy deposit into a government approved deposit protection scheme, any section 21 notice they serve will not be upheld. In the circumstance that the owner of the rental property has not protected their tenant’s deposits, the courts could require them to not only return the amounts taken, but up to three times the requested tenancy deposit. However, once the landlord has returned any amounts taken for the tenancy deposit to their tenants, excluding any additional compensation awarded to the occupants by the courts, they will once again be able to implement a section 21 notice onto their tenants.

Additionally it is essential for landlords to note that a section 21 notice will exclusively apply to the tenancy period during which it is served. If a tenancy agreement is renewed, or the occupants of a rental property fall into a rolling, or periodic tenancy, a revised notice would need to be served by the landlord.

Any section 21 notice served by the landlord would also be considered invalid if they have failed to supply the occupants of their rental property with the appropriate documentation.

When moving into a rental property the landlord is legally required to provide the tenants with the most recent copy of the UK government’s, “how to rent” guide. This documentation allows the tenants to be more informed throughout the rental period, giving them advice on their rights and responsibilities as a tenant, alongside where they can turn to for help if they are unable to pay their rent, or are in a dispute with their landlord. Likewise, a landlord must issue any new tenants with the most recent energy performance certificate for the rental. This correspondence will provide the tenants with an overview of the properties energy efficiency alongside estimations of its running costs.

Similarly, alongside this correspondence the tenants must also be issued with both the gas and electrical safety certificates for the property. All of the above mentioned certifications must be supplied to the tenant with 30 days of their receipt by the landlord or any attempt to serve a section 21 notice will be invalidated.

It goes without saying that if a landlord does not uphold their legal obligations as the owner of the rental property then they will be further prevented from issuing their tenants with a notice of eviction. With this in mind if the landlord fails to attend to any repair work highlighted by the tenants, or arrange for remedial work to be conducted on the property to ensure the safety of the occupants, any served section 21 notice will not be upheld.  

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