The pandemic has underlined the importance of a safe and secure home. But for England’s 11 million private renters, the basic right of a stable home is out of reach, due to section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions.
It’s not fair that section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act allows landlords to evict tenants without giving a reason. Landlords continued serving section 21 notices throughout the pandemic, even while courts were suspended. Section 21 creates instability, damages communities, and is a leading cause of homelessness.
In the last three years, Generation Rent research has found as many as 68,430 households have faced homelessness after their landlord evicted them to sell or re-let the property, or in retaliation for a complaint. These unfair evictions cost councils money too – Generation Rent estimates £161 million was spent in 2019-20 on housing people made homeless through a ‘no fault’ eviction.
Two years ago, the government pledged to end section 21, and has in the most recent Queen’s Speech pledged to “enhance the rights of those who rent” and publish a White Paper. This White Paper is an opportunity to extend the basic right of a secure home to millions of people, including 1.6 million families across England. It is vital these reforms are done correctly.
Section 21 is set to be abolished, but questions remain over what will replace it. Even if section 21 were removed, without further changes, unfair evictions could continue. That’s why, as well as removing section 21, the government must introduce open ended tenancies, end automatic evictions for those in rent debt, and ensure tenants are given longer to find a new home and compensated for an unwanted move.
Open ended tenancies must be introduced following the abolition of section 21. Provided the contract terms were not broken, these tenancies would continue until a tenant chose to leave, enabling them to put down roots in secure homes that they can call their own.
Outside of coronavirus regulations, tenants can be evicted with just two months’ notice. Finding a new home at short notice is expensive and disruptive. If a tenant cannot find a new home nearby, this can affect their jobs and their children’s education. It can force people to move far from those they care for or support networks they rely on. Notice periods should be increased to four months in all but the most serious cases, giving tenants more time to find a new home.
Landlords have raised concerns that without section 21 they would be unable to get their property back if they needed to live in it themselves or sell it. The government has previously proposed new eviction grounds to be used in circumstances like these, similar to those used in Scotland.
While few would disagree that landlords should be able to get their property back should they genuinely need it themselves, tenants who are evicted for these reasons have done nothing wrong and face the cost and disruption of an unplanned move. Landlords should pay towards tenants’ moving costs, set at two months’ rent, to help cover this unexpected expenditure. Homeowners and social tenants are already entitled to compensation if they are forced to move, and private renters should be offered the same.
The government must also tackle excessive or retaliatory rent increases in the new system. In most tenancies, landlords can raise the rent on tenants, and tenants have few ways of challenging an increase. It’s not fair that if a landlord puts the rent up by more than what a tenant can afford, they have little choice but to leave. The government must cap rent increases within tenancies to ensure tenants have the peace of mind that they will not be hit with a sudden and excessive rent increase.
The upcoming White Paper is also an opportunity to learn from the pandemic. Coronavirus highlighted how many private renters are vulnerable to economic shocks, as rent arrears tripled during the crisis. But our current inflexible system means tenants who owe more than two months’ rent can be automatically evicted under section 8, ground 8 of the 1988 Housing Act.
Automatic evictions mean a judge cannot take individual circumstances or an event outside of a tenant’s control into account. This includes tenants who have fallen ill, unexpectedly lost their jobs, or are waiting for benefit payments to arrive. Section 8 ground 8 should be scrapped, to prevent people losing their homes through no fault of their own. Evictions should only take place as a last resort.
A stable home is not just a basic right, but an essential foundation to enable people to recover from the pandemic, and to thrive. Renters have been waiting long enough. The government must take this opportunity to end unfair evictions for good and create a fair renting system.
Alicia Kennedy is director at Generation Rent