As legislation is introduced to end Section 21 evictions, Lauren Crosby Medlicott talks to tenants who live in constant fear of homelessness
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Back in 2019, the government promised to ban Section 21 no-fault evictions, a move that would guarantee a landlord would no longer be able to evict a tenant from their tenancy without a reason. But those promises have gone unfulfilled until this week when Housing Secretary Michael Grove announced plans to scrap no-fault evictions as part of a long-awaited overhaul of the private rental sector.
The Renters’ Reform Bill was tabled in Parliament on Wednesday, a piece of legislation that could be the “biggest shake-up of the Private Rented Sector in a generation.” It plans to end fixed-term contracts, outlaw arbitrary rent rises, and stop blanket bans on renting to families with children or tenants on benefits. One of the most talked about changes proposed is the end of no-fault evictions.
In 2022, 24,060 households were threatened with homelessness in England as a result of a Section 21 no-fault eviction. The figure is 50% higher than that in 2021. Since Theresa May promised to scrap them in 2019, nearly 53,000 households have been threatened with homelessness due to Section 21 eviction notices.
Recently, the Renters’ Reform Coalition asked to hear about the experiences of people impacted by no-fault evictions.
“We were overwhelmed, shocked and horrified by the responses,” Tom Darling of the Renters’ Reform Coalition, told Byline Times. “There was an outpouring of mild annoyance to really horrible stories. People talking about mental health crises and suicidal ideation.”
The concept of no-fault evictions started with the Housing Act 1988, legislation that became law under Margaret Thatcher. At that time, not as many people were renting privately, so it wasn’t until 2010, when the number of private renters had increased, that coalitions of private renters started speaking out about the injustices they were facing, including Section 21 notices.
“No fault evictions are pushing too many people needlessly into homelessness and turning thousands of people’s lives upside down,” said Polly Neate of Shelter. “The government has long promised it would scrap Section 21. Renters can’t wait any longer, the Renters’ Reform Bill is ready to go - it’s time the government stopped stalling and changed the law.”
Claire Boardman had been living in her York house for over four years when she was sent a Section 21 notice from a solicitor at the request of her landlord. As it was in the middle of lockdown, she was given six months to vacate the property.
The notice came only a couple of weeks after she raised concerns regarding a mess made by an electrical contractor who had been doing work in the property.
“It was the first complaint I had ever put in,” Boardman recalled.
Only ten days after she moved out, the property went back on the rental market for £200 more a month.
“They had no intention of selling,” she said. “I was appalled. They’d lied.”
For six months after she left the property, Boardman couldn’t find a room, flat, or house to rent in York.
“I was living in B&Bs, hotels, or I would sleep in my car,” Claire, who struggles with the impact of long-Covid, said. “As a professional, I never expected to get to that point and be faced with homelessness. It was something that happened to other people. I really understand now that we’re all just one step away.”
New data from Shelter found that private renters who complain about disrepair, like Claire, are more than twice as likely to be slapped with an eviction notice.
“Bringing an end to the blight of ‘no-fault’ evictions is long overdue,” said Siobhan Donnachie of the London Renters Union. “Too many families have been forced into homelessness in the four years since the Tories promised to end this cruel legislation. But there is nothing in this bill banning the huge and unfair rent increases our members are facing all of the time.”
Private rent prices are already skyrocketing in the UK, with average rents for properties reaching record highs. Shelter predicts thousands of evictions as people fail to afford the rising costs, with one in seven private renters in England hit by rent hikes just in recent weeks.
The short answer as to why: There is a shortage of affordable housing in the UK. Not enough social housing has been built by successive governments, and the private rental sector has picked up the slack. Zoopla reported the rental demand was more than 50% higher than the five-year average, but we’ve only seen a 1% increase in the number of private rentals over the last five years. Stiff competition for the homes available has driven up rent prices, with many landlords also upping the rents for existing tenants.
Even if no-fault evictions are banned, organisations supporting renters are worried about loopholes that could still make renters homeless.
“There is nothing in this bill banning the huge and unfair rent increases our members are facing all of the time,” Donnachie said. “For the many families struggling with housing costs at the moment, a 20% rent hike is simply a 'no-fault' eviction under a different name.”
Darling explained that although there is a price cap, it is a “market cap” based on the market rent in the surrounding area.
“We’re calling for a tighter cap,” Darling said. “A cap to either the lowest of either inflation or wage growth. Because otherwise, we’re concerned that it will still allow tenants to be subjected to big rent increases they find unaffordable and in effect, asking them to leave their properties.”
“I just felt powerless,” Rebecca*, who was given a Section 21 on 31 March, told Byline Times. “It was totally overwhelming.
Rebecca had lived in her rented flat in southeast London for over 12 years. During her time there, she has had problems with mice, severe cases of mould, and general disrepair throughout the flat.
“The landlord owns hundreds of properties,” she said. “He doesn’t do any repairs.”
Even though Rebecca made requests for repairs to both the letting agent and directly to the landlord, nothing was ever done.
“Near the end of March, I got a call from the letting agent saying the rent would go up by £100 a month by April,” Rebecca said, adding that she told the letting agent she would not accept the rise in rent until repairs had been done.
“Two weeks later, I had a Section 21 to vacate from the 2nd of June,” she said. “The other renters [in the house of flats] accepted the increase. I was the only one getting evicted.”
Rebecca kindly asked for an extension to the date given, but it was denied. She is now expecting her case will go to court.
“It’s devastating,” she said. “What do I do?”
In reaction to the proposed end of no-fault evictions, the National Residential Landlords Association has pushed back saying landlords need to be confident “they will be able to repossess their properties as quickly as possible” and “without this assurance, the bill will only exacerbate the rental housing supply crisis many tenants now face.”
“I hear this argument a lot,” he said. “But I would encourage your readers to think about what happens to a house when a landlord sells it. It doesn’t disappear into thin air. It could be sold to a social housing provider, sold to a first-time buyer, left empty, or worst-case scenario sold to someone letting it as a short term.”
The first two of those options are very positive steps to helping alleviate the housing crisis.
“Be wary of those arguments about supply,” concluded Darling.
*Name changed to protect identity
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