Theresa May has pledged to overhaul the private rental sector by abolishing landlords’ powers to evict tenants at short notice and without good reason.
In a major reversal of a policy implemented during Margaret Thatcher‘s time in Downing Street, the prime minister said she was taking action to end “no-fault” evictions in England.
Under the practice – already abolished in Scotland – landlords in England are able to evict tenants on a whim and without reason with as little as eight weeks’ notice, once a fixed-term contract has come to an end.
According to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), evidence shows that end of tenancies through no-fault evictions – under section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act – are “one of the biggest causes of family homelessness“.
Cabinet minister James Brokenshire said proposed changes would effectively create open-ended tenancies, and his department claimed it will give renters “reassurance they will not suddenly be turfed out of their home”.
Unveiling a consultation process on Monday, the prime minister said: “Everyone in the private sector has the right to feel secure in their home, settled in their community and able to plan for the future with confidence.”
“But millions of responsible tenants could still be uprooted by their landlord with little notice, and often little justification,” she added.
“This is wrong – and today we’re acting by preventing these unfair evictions. Landlords will still be able to end tenancies when they have legitimate reasons to do so, but they will no longer be able to unexpectedly evict families with only eight weeks’ notice.”
Communities secretary Mr Brokenshire said the government was “making the biggest change to the private rental sector in a generation”, adding: “By abolishing these kind of evictions, every single person living in the private rented sector will be empowered to make the right housing choice for themselves – not have it made for them.
“And this will be balanced by ensuring responsible landlords can get their property back where they have proper reason to do so.”
Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of the homelessness charity Crisis, said the announcement “represents a monumental leap forward in helping to prevent homelessness” across England.
But he warned: “While this is undeniably a positive step, we cannot forget that a chronic social housing shortage alongside woefully inadequate levels of housing benefit mean many people struggle to even afford a privately rented home.
“Ultimately, to ensure people most vulnerable to homelessness are not left with nowhere to turn, the government must urgently address these root causes.”
Generation Rent – an organisation that has campaigned for the abolishment of no-fault evictions since 2015 – said the move was “fantastic” for private renters.
Director Dan Wilson added: “We’re so proud of the thousands of renters who’ve led this campaign, signing petitions, contacting their MPs and councillors, and sharing their own stories of section 21 evictions and its harmful impact. The 11 million private renters in England are a growing political force and together we can win changes that will transform private renting into a tenure that is fit for purpose in the 21st century.”
But the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) said there are “dangers of getting such reforms wrong” and calls on ministers to act with “caution”.
Policy director David Smith said: “With the demand for private rented homes continuing to increase, we need the majority of good landlords to have confidence to invest in new homes. This means ensuring they can swiftly repossess properties for legitimate reasons such as rent arrears, tenant anti-social behaviour or wanting to sell them. This needs to happen before any moves are made to end Section 21.”
Labour’s shadow housing secretary, John Healey, said while any promise of help for renters is “good news”, he added: “This latest pledge won’t work if landlords can still force tenants out by hiking the rent.
“For nine years, the Tories have failed to tackle problems facing private renters. Tenants need new rights and protections across the board to end costly rent increases and sub-standard homes as well as stop unfair evictions.”