Recently, Housing Minister Heather Wheeler wrote an opinion article in which she reconfirmed her support for the government policy of scrapping Section 21, but also recognised that landlords’ right to evict tenants needs to be respected. She logically looked at strengthening Section 8 to counterbalance the loss of Section 21 and talked about speeding up the court processes to help landlords evict bad tenants quicker.
I welcome the Housing Minister’s approach and appreciate that the Government has finally come around to consider landlords’ positions, but I think the reforms being considered are too ambitious to be practical. We can all agree that the court system needs reforming, but where I take issue is that this cannot done in time to cover the loss of Section 21.
Of course, it all depends on the Government’s plans for when it rolls back Section 21, but given that their approach has been to ‘shoot first and ask questions later’ – announcing their intention to scrap it and only later talking about changing other regulations – I am not that confident. The Government’s promises will mean little if they go ahead and scrap Section 21 without creating alternative regulation, and many landlords will likely sell up rather than wait for them to come up with something. Scotland has already scrapped its equivalent of Section 21, and Wales moving forward, its likely England will follow.
The system is working
I want to state for the record my opposition to scrapping Section 21. The Housing Minister stated in her op-ed that a majority of landlords don’t evict without a reason, so it clearly shows the system is working.
Consider what landlords want when they rent – rent paid and the property respected. Two simple criteria that if met gives the landlord no reason to evict. The landlord doesn’t want the extra costs of finding new tenants. Stability is best for everyone. But when either of those two criteria is not met, they should be entitled to evict. Everyone understands the tenants need protection from rogue landlords, but they are few compared to the many decent ones.
Without protection and regulation, landlords will leave the market, but the greatest effect will be felt by tenants – the very group the Government want to protect!
However, I am also realistic, I believe getting rid of Section 21 is now in motion, and its about limiting the damage of losing it. What I would like to see in its place is Section 8 be reformed to move away from the courts and to an arbitration tribunal. The arbitrators would have the power to decide on matters relating to Section 8, and for their decisions to be final. This would bring in more oversight that is being cited as a major reason to scrap Section 21 and allow landlords to get swift judgement on evictions. An arbitrator would be able to see a clear-as-day case when, for example tenant hasn’t paid their rent for several months, or has caused damage to the landlord’s property in violation of the tenancy agreement, and rather than go back-and-forth with legal proceedings, be able to come to quick decision to support the landlord. This is something that could be set up in a relatively short period of time and is more realistic than a wholesale reform of the court system that the Government is proposing. This would benefit the Government by alleviating the already stretched court system rather than burden it with more Section 8 proceedings.
I can’t stress enough that this approach will ultimately backfire on the Government, without sufficient protection and regulation in place, landlords will leave the property market, but the biggest effect will be felt by the tenants themselves – the very group the Government wanted to protect! If Section 21 is rolled back without significant changes, the likes of which I have described, tenants will be left with less choice, higher prices, and unfortunately, probably more discrimination against Universal Credit recipients and people without British passports.
It’s imperative that the Government changes course and reconsiders the long-term impacts of its decision to scrap Section 21. The landlords’ position needs to be considered in legislation changes, and they should be supported as small business owners. Taking into account landlords’ position will help the Government actually protect tenants in the long term.