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Landlords: Section 21 update

Posted on 2015-09-29

After a long countdown, with many obstacles and red herrings along the way, the Deregulation Act 2015 and the changes to the Section 21 eviction process that come with it are here.

To put it into perspective, the last time we wrote about this incoming legislation was in April and the discourse around it had started long before then.

In the five months since that point the proposed regulations haven't changed but there has been an awful lot of confusion among landlords and their letting agents about the new rules.

In short a Section 21 Notice allows a landlord to regain possession of their property at the end of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy or fixed term tenancy agreement.

In their current form, Section 21 notices can be issued by landlords purely to regain possession of the property with no explanation needed.

In recent years, in response to this, the term ‘revenge eviction’ or ‘retaliatory eviction’ has become more prevalent in media reports – relating to a small number of cases where landlords issued Section 21 notices to vulnerable or troublesome tenants to get them out of their property.

This sparked a campaign among MPs and housing charities which has resulted in the changes to the current Section 21 eviction process.

Concerns about the changes from within the property industry have centred on the possibility that it may become harder for landlords to regain possession of their property and that they have been introduced too quickly with too little guidance and explanation of how they must be adhered to.

The October 1st regulations include several wholesale changes for all new tenancies in England that start on or after the deadline. The Deregulation Act also stipulates that the new system will apply to all tenancies after 2018.

There will now be limits on the form of a Section 21 notice, when it can be served and new procedures to follow in order to be able to serve a notice of this type.

Recent News timeline

- 10th Sept: The property industry hits out at the management of the proposed changes just three weeks before they're introduced. The National Landlords Association (NLA) criticises the wording of the regulations and lack of additional guidance provided by the Government.

- 17th Sept: The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) claims it has noticed a 'major drafting error' in the regulation wording, saying it contradicts wording set out in the Deregulation Act 2015. The Association calls for the Government to delay the introduction of the new rules.

- 21st Sept: The NLA says that the Government has confirmed there was an error in the drafting and that as a result the October 1st deadline is in 'grave doubt'.

- 24th Sept: The Government confirms the October 1st start date for the new regulations will go ahead after it revised the wording and circulated the new form to industry and consumer bodies.

Key information for landlords:

There are two predominant threads of the new regulations which landlords must be aware of if they wish to serve a Section 21 notice in the future.

Firstly, at the start of each new tenancy a landlord or a letting agent acting on their behalf must provide tenants with an annual Gas Safety Certificate, valid Energy Performance Certificate and a copy of the Government's How To Rent guide.

One of the other changes to receive plenty of publicity which may affect high numbers of landlords is to do with repairs in the rental property.

From October 1st, if a landlord does not respond to a tenant's written request for improvements to the property within 14 days it could jeopardise their eligibility to serve a Section 21 notice in the future.

If the landlord does respond but does not carry out the required work then the tenant will have the right to complain to their local authority. The local authority then has the option to issue the landlord with a Relevant Notice.

If a Relevant Notice is served, the landlord will legally have to carry out the required works and will not be able to serve a Section 21 notice for six months from the date of the Relevant Notice.

What's more, if the local authority does not clearly state or decide whether or not it is going to issue a Relevant Notice, the tenant will then be able to defend a Section 21 Notice if served one by their landlord.

Other important changes are that it will no longer be legitimate for a landlord to serve a Section 21 notice within the first four months of the tenancy and that a Section 21 notice will only be valid for six months from the date it was served.

These changes are very important and parts of the legislation is complicated. If you're concerned about complying with the Deregulation Act then it is worth speaking to an experienced letting agent or an expert in landlord and tenant law.  

Useful links and material:

Government's legislation documentation

Government's guidance on the legislation

The Government's How to Rent guide

Energy Performance Certificate guidance

Annual Gas Safety Certificate guidance

Fixflo infographic explaining Section 21 repairs changes in detail

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