Section 21: The Bigger Picture

Section 21: The Bigger Picture

Paul Shamplina, Founder of Landlord Action, gives his own opinion on a recent report published by Citizens Advice that suggests tenants who complain to their landlords are more likely to be served a section 21 eviction notice as a result of their actions.

Last week, Citizens Advice released a report called ‘Touch and Go’ claiming that tenants who complain about issues like damp or mould have a 46 per cent chance of being issued with a section 21 eviction notice within six months. The charity claims this has affected about 141,000 tenants since 2015.

The research says complaining “dramatically increases a renter’s chance of getting an eviction notice when compared to people who do not complain”.

My first concern with this report is how these figures have been sourced and their accuracy. Many tenants do not know why a section 21 notice has been served, it is a no-fault eviction notice, therefore landlords are not obliged to give a reason. It’s possible that many of the tenants surveyed by Citizens Advice did have a maintenance complaint, but it is not necessarily the reason they were evicted. It would be impossible to have such detail without surveying every landlord that has served a section 21 notice on their tenants.

Our experience of serving section 21 notices

At Landlord Action, we know from experience that the vast majority of section 21 notices are served as a result of rent arrears, breaches of tenancy, or tenants staying in the property often because they are awaiting a court order to be re-housed. The court systems are still too slow to keep up with the number of possession cases. Therefore, many landlords choose to use accelerated possession procedure, even though they forfeit the opportunity to recover outstanding rental money. This is because it can be a faster way of recovering the property so that it can be re-let.

My second concern is that the charity argues the figures show that recent laws (provisions for retaliatory eviction in the Deregulation Act 2015) designed to prevent families and other tenants in the private rented sector from being evicted after raising a complaint, have not worked. I would dispute this.

Figures released earlier this year by The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) showed that the number of accelerated possession cases (section 21 no-fault eviction) are in fact on a downward trend, with nearly 5,000 fewer cases in 2017 than in 2016. Previous figures had followed a modest upward trend since 2010.

This, in my opinion, demonstrates that the measures introduced are working and fewer landlords are using the section 21 accelerated procedure. Since the introduction of the Deregulation Act 2015, tenants have an opportunity to make a complaint in writing to the landlord (or to the landlord’s agent) regarding the condition of the property. The landlord then has 14 days to respond to the complaint. If the matter is not dealt with, the tenant can then make a complaint to the relevant local housing authority who has the power to issue an improvement notice or hazard awareness notice.

If a tenant has taken these steps and a landlord has not complied, a section 21 notice served in England would be invalid and any possession claim struck out. In addition, under the Deregulation Act 2015, a section 21 has a 6-month life span from the date the notice is dated. It is a case of ‘use it or lose it’. If a landlord lets the notice run out without starting Court proceedings, it is no longer effective and must be re-served if the landlord wishes to subsequently take Court action. Previously, we were being instructed to act on notices which were up to four years old!

Issues surrounding property disrepair

One of the other issues we come across is tenants not following recommendations on ventilation to prevent the buildup of damp and mould, and then not granting landlords, or their agents, access to make the reported repairs.

What would be most interesting to see is figures from local authorities on how many hazard awareness/improvement notices have been issued which would give a truer indication of disrepair issues. If as many tenants as reported by Citizens Advice are being evicted for raising issues over damp and mould, then clearly the issue over education and enforcement is far worse than we thought.

My advice to all tenants is, if you feel your landlord is not taking your complaint seriously, put a formal request for repairs in writing as soon as possible. Under the Deregulation Act 2015, a landlord cannot serve a section 21 notice until the issues are dealt with. If the landlord ignores the outstanding repair issues, then it should be reported to the local council.

My final thoughts

We have no room in our industry for rogue landlords making tenants’ lives miserable and everyone should have the right to live in a pleasant and safe environment. However, I do believe there are far more honest and professional landlords out there than rogues, which are in the minority. The constant war/ bad press against good landlords will eventually drive some out of the market leaving tenants with far less choice of accommodation. Any legislative changes should provide a good balance between protecting the interests of tenants but also the investments of landlords.

I think that changes the government has already implemented are making a difference, but with plans to dilute the use of Section 21 even further, I think we need to give the market time to adjust before stripping away everything that gives landlords an ounce of control.

Precise Treatment Reduces Pain

Detail needs experts. Expert time is worth it when it saves you a costly mistake. Main objective: Get the property back. Best action: Very precise treatment.

Serving a notice is actually the most important part of the possession process.

It isn’t complicated but one tiny error can cause dreadful problems.

That’s why we say, don’t DIY and don’t use internet amateurs. It’s not worth it.

1. Compliance Errors
If the tenant doesn’t leave at Step1, the notice had better be valid. Because then it has to go to court. Any little error can get a case thrown out. And you have to start all over again.

2. Attempting Short-Cuts.
In an effort to be quick, some internet services aimed at landlords are using short-cuts around the process. But if the tenant doesn’t leave (50%) these practices can backfire at court and the case thrown out.

3. Trying to Save Pennies.
Internet services have mushroomed and landlords can expect to get what they pay for. To get the process done PROPERLY it takes a certain amount of time for an expert to look over a file and be accurate. Our fees cover that expert time.

Chasing courts for dates, arranging advocates and preparing court papers is time consuming. Especially if you’ve never done it before.

Some landlord and agents have served notices themselves. They believed they were saving a few pounds but it often ended up costing them more.

If you lose a claim, the court can order you to pay the tenant’s defence cost, which can run to hundreds or thousands of pounds.

Our in-house Solicitors are there to get your property back as fast as they can. And we protect landlords and agents from themselves.

As experts, we know that in the rush to get things done, errors can happen. And those errors can can come back later to mess up your case – and the whole process has to start again.

You can speed things up – give us accurate information quickly. Help us to help you.

There are services on the web who will prepare papers BUT they get you to pay the court-fee separately and get you to sign the court papers – so in fact they don’t represent you!

If your notice (at Step1) wasn’t drafted or served correctly you risk wasting your court fees and losing a whole lot of time because of a small error.

We won’t let your case anywhere near a court until we have checked every little detail. To make sure you don’t waste time or money, at Step-2 we first only charge part of the fee.

If your notice is fine, then you just pay the balance of the fee and we issue the claim. If there is a problem with your notice or paperwork, we will advise you what to do next.

Courts take the view that possession proceedings can make someone homeless. So they are very careful. If there’s any error in the notice, they throw the case out. It’s the process. Get it right or lose.

If the notice is invalid, you have to start all over again. The weeks or months you’ve waited are wasted. If there were rent arrears, there are now more.

If there weren’t rent arrears, they might now start. More fees. More lost rent. And still no possession. Tenants can be alerted to making a counter-claim.

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