Vulnerable tenants and those at higher risk of rent arrears are likely to suffer most as a result of the government’s plans to change the way landlords can repossess properties.
That’s one of the main findings in new research published by the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) today based on a survey of almost 6,400 people involved in renting out private property-one of the largest ever surveys of its kind.
With the government proposing to end Section 21 repossessions, the research finds that 84% of respondents said they would be more selective in who they rent to for fear of the risk that it will become more difficult to repossess properties in legitimate circumstances. This includes for tenant rent arrears, anti-social behaviour or because the landlord wants to sell the property.
There are some who will cry foul that such a conclusion is landlords threatening the most vulnerable. But by raising the risks associated with renting properties out, landlords will inevitably be more cautious to avoid potential losses.
The research also rubbishes the suggestion that Section 21 is a ‘no fault’ eviction.
Of those landlords who had issued a Section 21 notice, 84% had used it because of tenant rent arrears, 56% had used it because of damage to a property and 51% had used it because of anti-social behaviour. 26% said that they had served a Section 21 notice to enable a tenant to make a claim for social housing to avoid them being classed as intentionally homeless. Section 21 is better thought of as “no explanation” rather than “no fault”.
Whilst it is true that a small minority of landlords abuse their position and should be rooted out of the sector for good, getting rid of Section 21 is not going to achieve this. In addition, we should not be needlessly scaring tenants with the idea that their landlord is about to evict them for no reason. It would make for a curious business model for a landlord to spend their time finding tenants only to get rid of them at the drop of a hat.
Section 21 is used because the other process, known as Section 8, under which landlords can repossess properties on a number of set grounds, simply does not work. A good example is anti-social behaviour.
Under Section 8, the level of proof required to evict a tenant committing anti-social behaviour is so high that it is practically impossible to use. This leaves such tenants continuingto cause misery for those who live with or near them. With the Victims Commissioner warning that more needs to be done to tackle anti-social behaviour, making it more difficult to evict such tenants hardly helps to address this problem.
Similarly, the court processes that are required to possess property using a Section 8 notice are simply not fit for purpose. Government data shows that it takes an average of over five months from a landlord making a claim in the court for a property to be repossessed to it actually happening. This is simply not good enough.
At a time when the demand for homes to rent is outstripping supply, we need a system landlords can have confidence in. Without it, the homes to rent will not be there, making the idea of longer tenancies a nonsense.
Ministers must commit to retaining Section 21 for as long as it takes to ensure any new system provides landlords with exactly the same level of assurance and confidence that they can repossess properties for legitimate reasons swiftly.
That means a clear and comprehensive set of grounds upon which landlords can repossess properties that is not open to abuse by problem tenants or criminal landlords and a dedicated housing court. Unless and until that is delivered then landlords will continue to need Section 21.
David Smith is policy director for the RLA.