With the government’s commitment to abolishing the section 21 no-fault eviction process comes the necessity to improve the alternative eviction process – section 8 and its existing 17 grounds for possession.
Whereas section 21 allows landlords to evict without giving a reason, and often with no need to attend a court hearing, section 8 does not. This is an adversarial system where the onus is on the landlord to prove, in court, that the reason for their possession claim is a legitimate one which falls within the scope of one of the 17 grounds.
It often results in a degree of contention and argument, which invariably leads to excessive delay and expense.
Recently released official data shows that it is now taking even longer than previously for landlords to repossess properties through the courts – 17.3 weeks on average for a claim to result in a repossession. This is not surprising given that county courts have been closing their doors and reducing capacity right across the country.
The Government’s plans to scrap Section 21. This means that if landlords are not to be driven out of the rental market completely, some effective alternative to these long delays, and the minefield of section 8, has got to be found.
Housing Secretary James Brokenshire has promised to speed-up the eviction process through the courts, but what exactly does this mean? Will there ever be the resources to provide a really effective improvement to court processes? Anyone who has experienced the county court process could certainly be forgiven for being very sceptical about that.
Landlord groups are calling for a complete overhaul of the system, with the provision of specialist “housing courts”. This is something that has worked very well in Australia for many years, but again, does the Government have the commitment for this, and if it has, does the Ministry of Justice have the resources to implement it?
David Smith, policy director for the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) has said the latest data on evictions shows that the courts are unable to manage repossession claims within any timescale which landlords would consider acceptable. And that’s before section 21 is abolished. What are the prospects after it’s abolished?
He said: “The courts are simply unable to cope when landlords seek to repossess property for legitimate reasons.
“The processes must first be fixed to ensure landlords are not unduly frustrated when wanting to reclaim their property in the face of tenants failing to pay their rents or committing anti-social behaviour.
“Before seeking to scrap Section 21 repossessions ministers urgently need to give confidence to landlords and tenants that the courts will first be substantially improved to speed up access to justice. That means establishing a full and proper housing court.”