With the imminent demise of the no-fault Section 21 eviction process, landlords are concerned about what will take its place.
Government has announced that it is committed to stopping landlords using the no-fault process to regain possession of rented properties, but the court repossession statistics for the first quarter of 2019, released this week, present a worrying trend.
The new figures show that it takes private landlords, on average, 22.5 weeks from making a claim to actually getting possession. This compares to the 21.6 weeks figure for Q1, 2019.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government is currently conducting a consultation about how best to replace Section 21s with something that’s “fair for tenants and landlords”.
Have your say, contribute here – A new deal for renting: resetting the balance of rights and responsibilities between landlords and tenants
Despite claims from landlords’ representatives that the only way to make the system fair is to introduce specialised “Housing Courts”, where swift and fair justice can be settled, the government seems intent on merely “tweaking” existing legislation and court processes. Few landlords have faith that such a move will make a major difference, or that it will be anywhere near enough to prevent “landlord flight”.
Admittedly, not all evictions take 22.5 weeks, and as has been suggested in the consolation, by eliminating mistakes on claim forms, digitising the process, and introducing clearer grounds for possession, average times may well be reduced significantly.
But there’s no getting away from the fact that by removing the assured shorthold tenancy and Section 21, leaving only a modified Section 8 process, this system moves from a mandatory eviction (when certain conditions apply and no court hearing is required) to a discretionary and adversarial one.
That means that in each case the onus of proof will be on the landlord: to bring into court rock-solid evidence that a significant breach of contract or misdemeanour has occurred, or has been occurring over a period of time. That process is not only difficult, time consuming and expensive, calling for professional representation, the outcome is always uncertain because judges will often be swayed and sympathetic to arguments put forward by the most “vulnerable” party, invariably the tenant.
Whatever the arguments, it would seem the die is cast as far as the removal of Section 21 is concerned, and there will be significant changes to the tenancy laws in both England and Wales following broadly the model introduced in Scotland in 2017. What is put in its place is perhaps of greatest concern now, and that whatever it is it does not tilt the scales of justice too far.
A press release put out by the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) draws attention to the new repossession statistics and the wider concerns:
Responding to these new statistics, John Stewart, Policy Manager for the Residential Landlords Association has said:
“Today’s figures show that the courts are unable to cope when landlords seek to repossess properties for legitimate reasons.
“With proposals to scrap Section 21 repossessions set to lead to a significant increase in cases brought to the courts, it is now a matter of urgency that the Government brings forward its plans for court reform. This requires a fully funded, properly staffed, dedicated housing court that can bring rapid justice for landlords and tenants. Tinkering with the existing system will not be good enough.”
See the Ministry of Justice’s Mortgage and Landlord Possession Statistics (Excel Spread Sheet download) for the second quarter of 2019 here – see table 6a “Private Landlord” tab