No fault evictions: next steps and foreseeable problems

by Christine Whitehead

It was good to see the announcement by James Brokenshire yesterday that the government has decided to put an end to Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions and has accepted the majority view expressed to their consultation on longer term tenancies in the sector that tenancies should last indefinitely.

The original consultation suggested a three-year tenancy with a probationary period, so the shift in thinking towards giving tenants far greater security is very significant. (Click here to read our blog and response document to the consultation.) It is rare to see such a rapid change in approach as a result of consultation – and very much to be welcomed. It is also almost exactly the same thought process that the Scottish Government went through a couple of years ago before introducing indefinite tenancies in 2018. Indefinite tenancies are standard in many continental European countries, especially those with sizeable private rented sectors. England can now be regarded as among this group, with more than one in five households living in privately rented accommodation.

What’s next? Of course, it is only the first step – the government will consult further on the details, including further allowable reasons for eviction under Section 8, and details of how rents can be raised during the course of a tenancy. Landlords will almost certainly be able to get a property back for their own use, or if they want to sell it. The first is clearly necessary – how else would people working in another city or country for a year or so be able to let out their homes? The second, which is also included in the Scottish legislation (which has 18 allowable reasons for eviction!), is much more difficult to monitor effectively.

On rents the government’s statement was very much less clear, only noting that there seemed to be some support for (probably annual) inflation-related adjustments within the tenancy, and that it should be possible for landlords to charge more if they had invested in improvements to the property. This is in line with policy in many European countries where it generally appears to work well. Check out our report for the Residential Landlord Association (RLA) which explores lessons that can be learned from international experiences in the private rented sector in other countries.

What are the big problems? The two most obvious ones are that landlords will get more selective about the types of tenant they will accept, which could increase access problems, particularly for those on housing benefit. Some will simply be unprepared to risk a long-term involvement with poor tenants and will leave the sector or transfer into very short lets such as Airbnb. Today’s government response noted the concern about loss of supply and accepted that changes will only work if the legal framework for permitted evictions becomes far more effective than it is in current form.

As we have argued in the RLA report, greater security of tenure and clarity around the responsibilities of both landlords and tenants are necessary if we are to have a sector that works properly for both. The government’s announcement today is a recognition of this reality. If these changes make things work better for good landlords and good tenants – who make up the vast majority of the sector – then it will be far easier to address the relatively small part where behaviour of either landlord or tenant is poor. Let us hope that these changes can be implemented quickly.

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