One other big issue with the scrapping of Section 21, which I’ve also previously flagged, is anti-social behaviour. Without tougher action, unruly tenants would be able remain in properties for longer causing landlords, their neighbours and local communities, as well as other tenants in HMOs, untold stress.
Fortunately, there has been some positive progress recently, as the Prime Minister launched the Government’s Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan, which will strengthen landlords’ ability to evict ‘unruly’ tenants, in particular those involved in anti-social behaviour.
Landlords are to be given new powers to evict problematic tenants with two weeks’ notice under government proposals to address antisocial behaviour. This would include tenants who use drugs, play excessively loud music, cause damage to a property or fall into rent arrears.
All new private tenancy agreements will have to include clauses that specifically ban antisocial behaviour – and the notice period for eviction on these grounds will be cut from four weeks to a fortnight. Although – to me, this is a headline grabber. Antisocial behaviour grounds for possession already exist, landlords can already start proceedings as soon as they have served notice, under ground 14 of Section 8, but it’s a discretionary ground. We rarely have cases like this at Landlord Action because landlords believe its weak
Where the tenancy is a contractual periodic or statutory periodic tenancy, the notice must end on the last day of a tenancy period. What makes these plans different?
It is, however, an important step in giving landlords some confidence that they will not be powerless to evict troublesome tenants. In our survey back in August, a fifth of landlords had issued a Section 21 notice because of anti-social behaviour.
Anti-social behaviour and damages are contentious issues and notoriously difficult to prove. Pursuing eviction on these grounds via Section 8 as far as the courts, relies heavily on evidence. It is usually only considered worthwhile if the tenancy has a long period left to run and there are consistent complaints.
That is why, historically, landlords have used a Section 21 no-fault eviction to remove tenants causing anti-social behaviour. Going forward, when Section 21 no longer exists, landlords need to know that if they have a nightmare tenant, they will have the power to remove them.
So, whilst I welcome anything which gives landlords that reassurance that robust enforcement measures will be available to them in this instance, there are also several other issues which need to be addressed for this to be effective. Most importantly, having dedicated housing courts needs to be put firmly back on the agenda, with special ABS hearing lists where judges grant possession orders on mandatory grounds, not discretionary as they are at present.
One caveat, however, is that when going to court, the landlord has to plead their case with evidence. The issue will remain of what evidence the landlord has that can be relied on? Relying on neighbours or co-tenants has always been difficult as they often do not want to be involved for fear of intimidation and violence. Local authorities will also have to play their part in supporting landlords. These new measures ,which the Government suggests will give landlords more power, can only be dealt with a priority listing and quicker hearing date from the normal possession list. Let’s remember, there’s going to be many many more hearings when section 21 is abolished. We will need more judges and a simplified process, possibly looking at remote hearings.
This then leads to further issues linked the housing crisis. Where does an evicted ASB tenant move to when there is a housing crisis and local authorities are already stretched to capacity? I don’t feel this has been considered widely enough.
Many landlords used Section 21 when there were rent arrears because there was no money order on the court order, so a tenant could go to the council at the eviction date and ask to be rehoused. When Section 21 is removed, there will be significantly more Section 8 rent arrears cases, and those tenants won’t be able to be rehoused, because we have a social housing crisis.
We have already seen accelerated Section 21 cases jump to the highest since 2017. Unfortunately, I predict there will be further panic if landlords don’t have faith in the court system. Landlords will want to serve a Section 21 so that they have the flexibility to serve a court order within 6 months. The result? More good tenants will be asked to leave properties and landlords will intensify their referencing when finding new tenants to ensure they have greater confidence in who they let to.
The Government is pressing ahead, but in my opinion there is still not enough consideration on how the reforms will work in practice and not enough changes are in place in the courts, the social housing system, the eviction process etc. to cope with the unintended consequences of such drastic action. Read more about how the proposed scrapping of Section 21 will affect landlords in Total Landlord’s article, which features videos of me explaining more about the steps to take if you are affected by rent arrears and what the likely time frame will be until Section 21 is abolished.
* Paul Shamplina is founder of Landlord Action, Chief Commercial Officer at Hamilton Fraser, and is on Channel 5's 'Nightmare Tenants, Slum Landlords' *
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