On 15 April 2019, the government announced the ‘biggest change to the private rental sector for a generation’. Approaching five years later, section 21 no-fault evictions are still here and the Renters (Reform) Bill continues to drag its heels through Parliament. Why?

It’s worth reminding ourselves of the Bill’s key measures:

  • Replacing assured shorthold tenancies (ASTs) with periodic assured tenancies running from month to month until ended by one of the permitted grounds.
  • Abolishing section 21 no-fault evictions. 
  • Overhauling the statutory possession grounds. This is one of the few pieces of good news in the Bill for private sector landlords. As a trade-off for the loss of section 21, certain possession grounds are widened and other new ones introduced. For example, occupation by a wider range of the landlord’s close family members will now justify possession. Lenders in the sector will be particularly pleased to see a significant widening in scope of the ‘sale by mortgagee’ ground. 
  • Increasing the regulation of rent increases by outlawing built-in rent review clauses, increasing notice periods and banning increases in the first year of a tenancy. 
  • Introducing a right of tenants to request permission to keep a pet, which may not be unreasonably refused. 
  • Introducing a landlord database and redress schemes. 

A couple of factors explain the latest delays. 

First, the devil is in the detail. Press releases containing grand statements are easy to make. Drafting legislation that strikes the right balance between landlords’ property rights and tenants’ security in their homes is not so straightforward. One example of this ‘detail delay’ lies in the intricacies around student accommodation. The Bill’s explanatory notes declare that purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) will be exempt from its scope, but the Bill itself is silent. An anticipated amendment to exempt PBSA is still awaited, leaving hanging uncertainty for providers in that space. Meanwhile, private sector student accommodation will be within the Bill’s scope and a new possession ground for those landlords, focussed on the timings of the academic year, attempts to satisfy both sides of the debate, but may do neither. 

Second, the government has acceded to landlords’ concerns that the court system is not ready to handle the higher volume of possession claims it is likely to see following the Bill’s passing into law. Anecdotal evidence suggests landlords currently prefer section 21 as a quicker and less precarious route to recovering possession, even where a tenant is at fault. Accordingly, the government has made clear it will not ban no-fault evictions until the court system has been reformed. That is not likely to be a quick process and it may be optimistic to think it can be completed before an impending general election. Michael Gove’s recent insistence that the reforms will be with us before the election has not prevented tabloid speculation that the Bill may collapse entirely.

And what about the general election? All the main parties have committed to banning no-fault evictions. Labour has said it would do so immediately without waiting for court reform. With such a general consensus across the political spectrum, it appears the demise of section 21 remains a question of ‘when’ and not ‘if’.