‘If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’ is a frequently used expression when there seems a degree of unnecessary interference and changes – and that is what we have got from the 2015 Deregulation Bill. Landlords are well aware of the need to follow correct procedures, many of them attending awareness raising and training sessions so that their actions comply fully with the law. All that knowledge will now need additions, if landlords are not to fall foul of the legislation.
The Section 8 notice, which has been used and worked perfectly well since 1989, has been changed and must be used from now on. In essentials, it remains the same, but the notes section has been extended to include reference to two new grounds for possession, grounds 7a and 14a. What happens if the old notice is used? Despite its’ similarity, use of the old notice may very well get it thrown out of Court, giving the tenant longer in your property as the process must start again.
Landlords must dispose of any section 8 notices that they hold in store; Landlord Associations and accreditation schemes will have the new notices to download. To ensure the correct notice is being used, it should be headed as follows:
Notice seeking possession of a property let on an Assured Tenancy or an Assured Agricultural Occupancy
Housing Act 1988 section 8 as amended by section 151 of the Housing Act 1996 and section 97 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.
Even more annoying will be the changes to be made to s.21 notices, the landlord’s preferred mode of ending a tenancy. This is the accelerated possession procedure and requires no reason for ending the tenancy so should proceed with as little unpleasantness as possible this is a ‘no blame’ notice, so should not affect the tenant’s ability to obtain alternative accommodation. Some landlords have been in the practice of issuing a s.21 notice at the start of the tenancy; they have felt more confident about taking a tenant that may not meet their selection criteria, because they knew the notice was served and at the expiry of the tenancy, if they choose to take possession they can straight to Court for a re-possession order. This will now be outlawed from 15th October 2015 – a notice can only be issued when the tenancy has run 4 months. This is a further pressure on landlords, who must ensure they are issuing notices at the correct time. It also has a ‘shelf-life’ court proceedings must follow within 6 months, or it will expire. Landlords will therefore have little leeway to allow tenants time to improve behaviour or pay outstanding rent. At least landlords will have until October to get used to the idea and will be able to evict, until then, using the notices issued as the tenancy commenced.
As tenants find when they move onto Universal Credit, with a 5 week delay until first payments, or where there is a change of circumstances which has temporarily suspended payment, delays may put the landlord into a situation where his only option, because of time constraints, is to start the Court process. Who does this help? Neither tenant nor landlord who will be acting faster than he would choose to evict tenants he was prepared to take a chance on. And perhaps most importantly, it is a further restriction on the use of the s.21 notice, possibly put in place in a move to stop retaliatory eviction – which almost has the status of an urban myth in the areas I deal with; rents have remained almost static over the last 3 years. In areas where rents increase in leaps and bounds, there may be some truth that landlords would rather than evict than effect repairs, simply because there is such a shortage of housing, new tenants are queuing at the door and the rents can be raised every few months with impunity. Introduce measures in those areas; don’t tar all landlords with the same brush.
One good thing must be said – the notice will no longer need to follow the tenancy dates. Provided a 2 month notice is issued, it can be done at any time. This at least will avoid cases being thrown out of Court because incorrect dates have been used, so a positive for the landlord, but an unnecessary negative for the tenants.
Further changes have been announced. There will be only one s.21 notice, but the form must be used. Until now, landlords have been able to write their own notice, provided that the prescribed information is included. Although this change could be viewed as unnecessary, landlord-written notices are often where problems occur and confusion arises, so this is also a positive step that avoids confusion.
Only time will prove whether these changes will be effective and to whose benefit. Landlords need to get whatever information they can, go for the training that is offered and not issue any notices, unless 100% certain they are correct and within the law.
For advice on buy to let – Ask Sharon