“It’s a lovely place to live. We have so many friends on our road, but all of this is being wrenched away from us.”
Becky Palmer and her family have lived in a rental property in Weston-super-Mare for 12 years.
But she recently received a section 21 notice in the automate your posting from her landlord, which gives tenants two months to move out.
“Our lives are falling apart. To add insult to injury, I had to pay for and collect the piece of paper from the automate your posting office that was chucking me out,” Becky says.
Section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act allows landlords to evict tenants without a reason once their contract comes to an end, or give them notice of the “intention to evict” two months before it ends. They are often used by landlords who want to sell their properties.
Becky had a suspicion this was the case: “Our landlord was very quiet, usually he left us alone. But he asked me to forward copy of our tenancy agreement to a property company in December. I started wondering what he needed it for.”
To worsen the anxiety, her husband, Karl, was diagnosed with a brain tumour around Christmas. In February he’s due to undergo an operation – at the same time the family is looking for a new home.
“It’s really knocked us for six,” Becky said. “I had a lovely little job, but due to the amount of stress I’ve had to give it up. We’ve lost two full-time wages.”
She’s now worried that the family could be made homeless. “The council has recommended we sit out the notice and wait to be evicted. But I don’t want a court order against our names – we’ll need to rent for the rest of our lives.”
North Somerset Council told BBC News it did not comment on individual cases.
While section 21 orders are also used when tenants have built up rent arrears, Becky says she pays the rent for the family home on time every month.
‘In your landlord’s hands’
Becky faces an additional hurdle. She was declared bankrupt in 2016 after her small business folded. Her credit rating took a hit and her husband also received a court order for unpaid debt.
As a result, she says another private landlord has asked her to provide five months’ rent upfront. It’s a sum of money the family don’t have.
“It’s made me realise, you really are in your landlord’s hands. It’s one of the dangers about renting privately,” Becky says.
How does section 21 work?
A section 21 notice is one way of starting the eviction process in England and Wales.
They can only be issued for assured shorthold tenancy agreements, and must be done in writing. Tenants must be given at least two months’ notice to leave a property. They are also obligated to pay their rent until the day the tenancy finishes.
A section 21 notice might not be valid in some circumstances, such as if a tenant’s deposit hasn’t been protected or if the notice has the wrong name on it.
Most section 21 notices don’t appear in official statistics. That’s because most tenants leave their property soon after they receive their eviction letter and don’t mount a legal challenge.
But where they are challenged, some figures are available. They show that the use of Section 21 has risen since 2000.
In 2019, about 8,104 repossessions were carried out by county courts in England using “the accelerated procedure” (which doesn’t require a court hearing). A repossession occurs when bailiffs are given permission to remove tenants from a property to return it to a landlord.
While official numbers don’t give the full picture, they do show there is an increase over the long-term, although numbers have dropped recently.
Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggests that section 21 notices are issued under several circumstances, which could include when a landlord wants to raise rents, sell the property, or evict a tenant due to anti-social behaviour or rent arrears building up.
How are the rules changing?
The government plans to ban no-fault evictions in England and Wales. New rules were introduced in Scotland requiring landlords to give a reason for ending tenancies in 2017. There are no plans in Northern Ireland to end no-fault evictions where a fixed-term tenancy has come to an end.
The Law Society recently backed government proposals to revoke section 21 in England and Wales. Its president, Simon Davis, described it as “one of the leading causes of family homelessness in the UK”.
The Residential Landlords Association however has published research that suggests that section 21 is not a cause of homelessness. It says that welfare reforms, such as the introduction of Universal Credit, have a bigger part to play.
For Becky, she says she wished she had had more notice, describing her family’s eviction as a “total upheaval”.
“People need a minimum of six months to get their lives organised. I just hope the new rules will make people’s lives easier.”