Government plans to change the law on tenant evictions may not improve tenants’ security, warns London law firm Osbornes Law.
The firm believes that such changes could risk being unworkable in practice. This is in response to a Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) consultation, A New Deal for Renting.
Osbornes Law warns that an increase in factual disputes about the reasons for evictions will strain a court system that is already struggling to cope.
The MHCLG proposes to abolish assured shorthold tenancies so that landlords cannot use Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 to evict tenants at the end of the fixed-term tenancy without providing a reason or avenue to challenge.
Instead, Section 8 will be used more frequently, being issued to a tenant for either breaching the terms of their tenancy agreement for other reasons, such as the landlord wanting access to the property to sell up or for personal use. The MHCLG also promises faster redress through the courts.
Shilpa Mathuradas, head of property litigation at Osbornes Law, points out that, despite publicity about rogue landlords seeking to evict tenants for no good reason, they represent a tiny minority of property owners.
Research conducted by the Residential Landlord Association (RLA) found that 84% of landlords who had used the Section 21 process did so because of tenant arrears, and 56% because of the damage to property and antisocial behaviour.
She says: “If the process is to be abolished, then landlords need to be assured that a workable system is available to ensure that where landlords rightfully seek possession this is obtained quickly and efficiently without significant cost to landlords, who are often in a position where rent is not being paid where there are ongoing court proceedings.
“If a landlord is rightfully claiming possession based on rent arrears or any other fault of the tenant, this is not going to stop because the Section 21 process is abolished. Landlords will simply pursue the tenants through the more expensive and lengthier Section 8 process. This will not create stability and security for the tenant.”
Her colleague, Alex McMahon, an associate solicitor in the property litigation team, adds that more factual disputes, and the need for courts to resolve them, will be unavoidable as a result of the reforms: “Tenants must be allowed to defend allegations of fault, and to bring a counterclaim if appropriate.
“Judicial scrutiny is the safeguard for both sides, and unsuccessful parties to disputes can expect cost orders to be made against them.
“In my view, the problem with delay is not found in the legal framework but in the overburdened legal infrastructure that applies it. Our courts are now so significantly clogged up with disputes that claims can take many months before they are listed for a first hearing.”