Landlord and property

What you need to know about tenant evictions and Section 21 Notices

As a landlord, there may come a time when you need to take back possession of your rental property from the tenant, whether it be because you’re selling it, moving in yourself, carrying out a major renovation project, or because your tenants aren’t paying their rent.

Dependent on the situation you’re in with your tenant, you will need to serve a specific type of eviction notice, and it’s important to make sure that all of the legal requirements are met so that you gain back possession of your property as soon as possible – one missed signature could result in your eviction order being rejected by the courts, or appealed by the tenant at a later date.

What are the different types of eviction notice?

Two of the most common types of eviction notice are the section 8 and the section 21.

A Section 8 Notice to Quit (so called as it falls under section 8 of the Housing Act 1988) is what you would serve to a tenant who is in breach of the terms of their tenancy agreement - for example, they have fallen into rental arrears.

To kick-start eviction proceedings, the landlord must first serve the ‘section 8 notice to quit’ to the tenant, stating the grounds on which the landlord is seeking repossession of the property. This ‘notice to quit’ must be set out in the prescribed format, and the amount of notice given will be dependent on the grounds for eviction – the tenant will always be given a minimum of two weeks’ notice to leave the property. Once this notice has been served to the tenant, the landlord can then apply to the courts to obtain the order for possession.

The Section 21 is the notice a landlord would serve to a tenant if they were attempting to regain possession of the property for their own use, rather than because the tenant has breached their contract – for example, the landlord wants to move back into the property themselves. The section 21 notice doesn’t need to give the tenant a reason for eviction, however it must be in writing and give the tenants at least two months’ notice.

5 things you need to know about serving eviction notices

1. Get your house in order

It’s important to make sure you’re meeting all of the legal requirements when you first start renting properties, such as providing the right documentation to the tenant at the start of the tenancy. You must ensure the tenant has been provided certificates for energy performance and gas safety, along with fully-tested smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in high-risk rooms, and a copy of the government’s How to Rent guide. You’re also legally required to ensure that any tenant deposit is held in a protection scheme within 30 days of receiving it, and you are required to provide the prescribed information and details of the scheme to all parties who have paid or contributed to the deposit, including the guarantor if applicable.

Transparency for tenants is key, and you should put everything in place at the start of the tenancy (or soon afterwards) - otherwise you may invalidate any Section 21 notice you serve further down the line. It’s a good idea to collate signed copies of all the relevant documents and attach them to the tenancy agreement to avoid disputes.

2. Timing is everything

You are not allowed to serve a Section 21 notice in the first four months of the tenancy, but after that time you can give your tenants two months’ notice to vacate. If all goes to plan, you’ll have your property back at the end of the notice period, although it could be another six to 10 weeks before court proceedings are launched.

3. It might be worth getting expert help

It is relatively cheap and easy to make a possession order online, and should not cause any issues for experienced landlords. However, if you’ve never made one before, or you are in any doubt about how it works, it’s worth speaking to a legal expert. One simple error, like getting the date wrong, could invalidate your claim and result in you having to start the process all over again.

4. Beware of ‘revenge evictions’

Revenge evictions have attracted a lot of negative press recently, with some of the complaints about ‘revenge evictions’ stemming from rogue landlords misusing Section 21 notices to evict tenants who have asked for repairs to be carried out.

Following a change in the law in 2015, you now have two weeks to respond to requests for repairs, setting out exactly how you will address the problem. As long as you have kept the property in good condition, carried out of all of the requirements of you as a landlord, and only make a Section 21 claim in good faith, you shouldn’t have any problems when it comes to eviction.

5. Make sure you’re covered

Barring any disputes, a Section 21 is a quick and easy way to seek possession, with neither party being required to attend court apart from in exceptional hardship or challenged cases. On some occasions, a tenant might challenge the eviction in court on the grounds that you haven’t followed the correct procedures, so make sure documents are up-to-date from the start of the agreement. If the judge rules in your favour, you can pursue the claim via bailiffs if the tenant does not vacate the property.

However, if you’re unsure of what’s required of you when it comes to evicting tenants, or simply would prefer someone else to handle it for you, it might be worth looking into taking out rent guarantee insurance.

Rent guarantee insurance will protect your rental income in the event that your tenants are unable to pay their rent, and cover the legal costs involved with evicting them. This insurance policy will usually sit separately to your landlord buildings and contents insurance. Essentially, a rent guarantee policy is there to protect you from being out of pocket should your tenants be unable to pay their rent. In this time of economic uncertainty, even the best tenants can find their circumstances changing, resulting in them being unable to meet their rental commitments, so it’s important to make sure you’re protected against every eventuality, especially if you’re reliant on rental income to make your mortgage payments each month.

This post was contributed by Terhi Sygrove, who is an expert in the recovery of rent arrears and possession proceedings at Nottingham-based law firm Rothera Sharp, where she represents both landlords and letting agents.

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