People’s views on section 21 tend to be polarised depending on which side of the landlord v. tenant fence they are standing.
- If you are a landlord you feel you need it to protect your property rights and to allow you to recover possession from bad tenants
- But if you are a tenant it means that you can never feel secure. You are always at risk of being evicted. And although in most cases you may be able to delay it, there is nothing you can do can stop it.
For the past 20 years, I have tended to act mainly (although not exclusively) for landlords and so I find it easy to see things from a landlord perspective. However, in this article, I want to look at things from the tenants’ point of view.
Because for tenants, section 21 can be very damaging indeed. It can also be damaging to society. We’ll take a look at that too. But first
Section 21 and the damage to tenants
Most of us need to have a home, somewhere we can feel safe. However, if your home can be taken away from you, even if you are the most perfect tenant ever, for no reason that you can see – this can be deeply unsettling.
In the past maybe this was less of a problem as you could (assuming you were a decent tenant with good references) find somewhere else nearby fairly easily. However, this is often no longer the case.
In many parts of the country, there is a severe shortage of accommodation and it may be almost impossible to find what you want within your budget – particularly if you are on a low income or, heaven forfend, on any form of benefit. So if you find somewhere decent you are desperate to stay there.
Now most good landlords, are happy to let tenants stay. All they really want is to have a decent tenant in situ paying the rent and looking after the property. But even with those landlords, there is no real security. After all, if they DID decide to evict you – they could.
So there is always an underlying feeling of insecurity. And according to the housing charities, many tenants DO get evicted for little reason other than maybe the landlord wanting to increase the rent or because the tenants are ‘being difficult’. Not all landlords are good landlords.
From this continual feeling of insecurity can flow mental health issues and constant moves mean disrupted schooling for children. Which is bad for society.
Section 21 and the damage to society
Neighbourhoods depend on people. For a neighbourhood to be a ‘nice’ neighbourhood it needs to have people living there who care for it. Ideally, it needs to have people living there for a long time. People who grow up there and love it.
But often people can’t be sure that they will be living in the same place from one year to the next – so there is little incentive to put anything back. Either to care for the property you are in or become involved locally. After all, you may be forced to move to the other side of town (or even to another town altogether) in six months time.
Not everyone will feel like this but many will.
From the point of view of society, it is not good to have a large percentage of the population feeling disconnected in this way.
It can also be very damaging for children to be constantly shifting around (although some will cope with it surprisingly well). Children are our future.
So it is concerning that so many families with young children are living in short term accommodation with no long term security.
Then there is the fact that the absolute right to evict encourages bad practices by bad landlords – as they can just evict the tenants that dare to complain and replace them with new tenants who will put up with their poor conditions. Or threaten to do so.
Knowing that section 21 exists makes it impossible for many tenants to claim their legal rights. The anti-retaliatory eviction measures brought in by the Deregulation Act do not appear to be working and only give tenants six months protection anyway.
The failure of the authorities to deal with poor landlords and the power that these landlords have over tenants due to their section 21 rights is causing serious concern – including among good landlords who are unhappy about the poor image of their sector caused by the rogues and criminals left to practice largely unchecked.
Local authorities do not have the resources to deal with these people and the police just refuse to act claiming that these are ‘civil matters’. But where blatant failure to comply with the law is allowed to continue unchecked – this in itself destabilises society.
Section 21 is not the whole problem here but it is a factor.
A re-assessment of our values
If the decision has been reached to remove the ‘evil’ section 21 to re-balance property rights – then this will be a big change. As discussed in the history post, the current private rented sector was largely founded on the right to recover possession under section 21.
Removing it could have unintended consequences – including the collapse of the PRS itself if not done properly.
Before doing anything we need to re-think the whole basis under which we own and use residential property.
And take a look at our values as a society. I’ll consider this in the next post.