No-fault evictions: 'I never thought it would happen to me... until my landlord left a Section 21 notice'

 (Precious Adesina)
(Precious Adesina)

Every week almost 300 Londoners are hit with a Section 21 notice, otherwise known as a 'no-fault' eviction, where a tenant is ordered by their landlord to move out of their home for no stated reason.

Up until last autumn, if you had told me that I would one day be one of them I would not have believed you. How naive I was.

After almost a decade of renting in London, moving between house shares every year or two, in 2022 I decided to find a place to rent on my own.

I had read many pieces describing the joy of living alone as a woman and thought I would see if I could afford to live out my Carrie Bradshaw dream of hitting deadlines in my very own shoebox before hitting the town (pub) with my pals.

In April that year I found a studio in Wood Green for £950 per month, including heating and electric bills on the top floor of a building divided into five flats.

I had been paying £615pcm (not including bills) to live with three other people in Crouch End and moving to a less villagey part of Haringey (albeit only a walk away) was the only way I could afford to rent solo.

'It was harder dealing with a useless landlord alone'

Living alone I felt less lonely than I ever have in my adult life, but having sole responsibility if anything went wrong in the flat and being the only person to deal with the landlords was isolating.

When the boiler broke down and the landlord did not fix it on time there was no one to share the misery of a month without heating with. In a houseshare there was at least the camaraderie of being in it together and sharing the load.

It did not help that this was the first place I had experienced a landlord dragging their feet over basic repairs: at one point I was even told that the mice coming into my flat were "sweet little creatures".

Nonetheless I stuck it out for over a year and I thought things were looking up when my landlord changed. The new landlord introduced themselves, waxing lyrical about all the positive changes they were about to make in the building.

My flat was falling apart and I was excited about the fresh lick of paint and repairs they were offering. All I needed to do was to sign a new tenancy and agree to a 'small' rent increase to £1,100. I negotiated them down to £970 after explaining all the time and money I had invested myself into making my flat a decent place to live.

I waited for the repair works to start — in vain. But I decided to let it go, having patched up and decorated myself and secured only a minimal rent increase.

Just a few months later I received a notice on my door that my rent would increase to £1,100pcm — this time with no option for negotiation.

I called the landlord straight away but they refused to answer and messaged me only to text them. I asked them why they were upping my rent a few months after the first increase and by quite a significant amount despite our initial discussion, especially after no repairs had been done.

After claiming that rent increases are normal, sending me a few emojis, which included a thumbs up, smiley faces and the prayer sign, and calling me “mate,” they blocked me. The next time I left my home, a dreaded Section 21 notice, was placed in front of my door.

What are no-fault evictions?

The Government has pledged to ban this deeply unfair practice but they have faced many hurdles getting the legislation through Parliament and almost five years on from their commitment to reform the rental sector, thousands of Londoners still live in insecure rented homes, with 'no-fault' eviction numbers at record highs.

Under current rules, tenants like me have just two months to comply with a Section 21 eviction notice, which can come at any time without warning.

 (Shutterstock / Slava Dumchev)
(Shutterstock / Slava Dumchev)

Never having heard of anyone I knew being evicted for no reason before and unable to think of anything I had done to deserve it, I initially believed the note was a scam.

Having no way of contacting the landlord or of knowing whether this situation was legitimate, at the height of my anxiety and unable to clear my mind enough to work, one afternoon I decided to cycle to the address on my tenancy.

There I was greeted by baffled tenants wondering why I had shown up at their door unannounced asking for help. It turned out it was not the agency’s business premises address on my rental contract but another tenant’s.

I found another address online and, subsequently, a phone number, but it was for the landlord’s accountant. I also discovered that the landlord owned many other agencies, all addressed to the accountant and with no websites.

I spent hours talking to Citizens' Advice Bureau, only for them to tell me my situation is so common at the moment there would be little point in fighting it. The stress was making me neglect my work and everyday responsibilities and I discovered that this whole situation was technically legal.

At this point I decided to cut my losses and find somewhere new to live — in less than two months — rather than try to fight the situation.

Record numbers of people are being made homeless

And so, I ended up re-entering possibly the most hostile, competitive and expensive rental market London has ever seen — at least since records began. The now cut throat nature of finding a home to rent in London meant I had to give up on the idea of living by myself, too.

I spent a month scouring online room ads, asking every friend and acquaintance if they knew of any rooms to rent and making an ad for myself on Spareroom that was better than any dating app profile I've ever made, although much like my Hinge with no success.

Time was running out and I was beginning to wonder if I would end up having to crash with a friend until I found a place (in technical terms this counts as being homeless) or even move out of London for a while.

As a twenty-something freelance writer with no dependents I was also able to toy with the idea of storing my stuff somewhere and leaving the country altogether for a while.

I'm one of the lucky ones. Not everyone has even these options at their disposal and more and more people are ending up homeless as a result, with the number of children in temporary accommodation at record highs and 1,700 more people street homeless than a year ago.

Just over a week before I needed to leave, my landlord’s agency sent me a letter noting that their mortgage had gone up, which is why they ‘had’ to evict people across several London properties.

They were contacting me to confirm whether I was definitely leaving as planned and whether I needed a “positive reference”. They briefly unblocked my texts to verify this before blocking me again soon after.

In a conversation with one of my neighbours in the building I discovered that others had also been evicted, though one man, who was also living alone, was hoping to fight it.

Another couple up for eviction later informed me that they managed to stay by agreeing to a £230 a month rent increase.

The two remaining households the landlord did not evict included a family who moved in a couple of months ago and a man who had accepted the increase when the landlord had initially asked about it earlier in the year.

My potential catastrophe was averted in the nick of time. With just three weeks to go before I needed to leave my dream home-turned-nightmare I received a message from a local group who had also been suddenly evicted by their landlord.

They had found a new place to share for £700pcm per person but one of their friends had dropped out and they desperately needed a fourth flatmate so as not to lose the property. I met up with them that day, and we shared our horror stories of renting in London before I went home and began packing.

Moving is expensive — the same man with a van I used a year before had doubled in cost. Meanwhile I've since seen my former home advertised (with outdated photos and a misleading reference to garden access) for £1,400pcm.

In a way I've lucked out. My new rent is lower and my current bedroom is larger than my entire previous flat. Much as I loved living alone, it's not to be for now.

But the shock and disruption caused me to put my regular life on hold for weeks, with a ripple effect through my work and personal life. I may have been naive in thinking this would never happen to me, having experienced it I'm clearer than ever it should never happen to anyone.