Housing campaigners have hailed a groundbreaking shift for tenants’ rights after the government announced plans to scrap “no-fault evictions”, which it described as the biggest overhaul for renters in a generation.
The government will consult on abolishing section 21 evictions in England, meaning private landlords would no longer be able to evict tenants from their homes at short notice and without good reason.
Currently landlords have the right to get rid of tenants with as little as eight weeks notice after a fixed-term contract has ended. The government said that section 21, which is notoriously hard to challenge, had become one of the leading causes of family homelessness.
Announcing the plans, Theresa May said tenants had the rights to feel secure in their home, settled in their community and able to plan for the future with confidence. “Millions of responsible tenants could still be uprooted by their landlord with little notice, and often little justification,” she said.
“This is wrong – and today we’re acting by preventing these unfair evictions. This important step will not only protect tenants from unethical behaviour, but also give them the long-term certainty and the peace of mind they deserve.”
The changes, which Shelter called “an outstanding victory” for renters, will in effect create open-ended tenancies and give tenants more reassurance that they will not face snap evictions if they complain about the poor quality of their accommodation.
Under the proposals, landlords seeking to evict tenants would have to use the section 8 process, which can be implemented when a tenant has fallen into rent arrears, has been involved in criminal or antisocial behaviour or has broken terms of the rent agreement, such as damaging the property.
Ministers have said they will amend the section eight process to allow it to be used by landlords if they want to sell the property or move back in themselves. Unlike section 21, tenants can challenge section eight evictions in court.
The proposed change drew fury from landlords’ representatives, who said the no-fault eviction rules had been used as a way to circumvent lengthy court delays when landlords needed to evict tenants when they fell into arrears. Buy-to-let lenders are also likely to watch the proposed change closely and may be less likely to lend if landlords find it harder to evict unruly tenants.
David Smith, the policy director of the Residential Landlords Association, said changes would lead to more cautious investment in buy-to-let properties from landlords and prospective lenders. “For all the talk of greater security for tenants, that will be nothing if the homes to rent are not there in the first place,” he said.
More than 4m households, equivalent to around 11 million people, are now in privately rented accommodation in England, but the communities secretary, James Brokenshire, said the housing market had not kept pace with the explosion in the rental market.
Brokenshire said it would be “the biggest change to the private rental sector in a generation” and that families had the right to build a home without fear of being evicted at a moments’ notice.
Polly Neate, Shelter’s chief executive, said the government would deserve great credit if it delivered on the promise quickly and that the change would transform lives. She said tenants were often given contracts “shorter than your average gym membership, who live in constant fear of being thrown out at the drop of a hat”.
The housing charity said it had found that one in five of families who rent privately have moved at least three times in the last five years, and one in 10 say that a private landlord or letting agent has thrown their belongings out and changed the locks.
The Citizens Advice chief executive, Gillian Guy, said the change was a “groundbreaking shake-up” and said it would prevent landlords from “evicting tenants for simply complaining”.
The most recent research by Citizens Advice suggested that tenants who made a formal complaint about their landlord or the state of their rented home had a 46% chance of being issued with a section 21 eviction notice in the following six months.
Heather Kennedy, a housing organiser at the leftwing thinktank New Economics Foundation, said she had experienced two no-fault evictions, including last winter just days after finding out that she was pregnant.
“I know how brutal and terrifying no-fault evictions are,” she said. “It’s impossible to build a stable, rooted life as a private renter under laws like section 21. So government plans to repeal this appalling legislation are a massive victory for the growing renters movement which has fought collectively to make this happen.”
The announcement drew a cautious welcome from Labour, but the shadow housing minister, John Healey, said the government must also protect against landlords forcing tenants out by stealth.
“Any promise of new help for renters is good news but this latest pledge won’t work if landlords can still force tenants out by hiking the rent,” he said. “Tenants need new rights and protections across the board to end costly rent increases and substandard homes as well as to stop unfair evictions.” Healey said.
The change had been the subject of a campaign by Generation Rent, backed by Labour and the Green party as well as a 50,000-strong petition and 13 local authorities which supported the abolition of section 21, including the inner London boroughs of Lewisham, Southwark and Hackney.
Renters’ campaign groups also hailed the proposal as a victory but added to the calls that it should be part of a package of reforms. Acorn, another renters union, said the change should not be seen as “a gift from a benevolent government” but the result of a long-fought campaign by organised tenants.
The government has said it will also amend rights for landlords who wish to evict tenants in order to sell or move into their property and has also promised to speed up legal processes for evictions if tenants fall into arrears or damage the property.
Richard Lambert, the chief executive of the National Landlords Association, said there was often “no choice” but to use section 21. “They have no confidence in the ability or the capacity of the courts to deal with possession claims quickly and surely, regardless of the strength of the landlord’s case,” he said.