What is Section 21 and What Does it Mean?
Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 allows private landlords to evict tenants in England and Wales on an assured tenancy agreement or rolling contract, without having to establish that the tenant is at fault. It is a controversial law and requires specific circumstances to be valid.
A Section 21 notice landing on a tenant’s doorstep means that their landlord is giving notice that they are seeking to reclaim possession of the property. A landlord cannot just change the locks and kick a tenant out, they must give appropriate notice and then obtain a court order if their tenant refuses to leave.
Section 21 can only be used to evict tenants on an assured shorthold tenancy agreement or periodic tenancy, which means tenants are on a week-by-week or month-by-month contract with no fixed end date. As tenants won’t have broken the terms of that tenancy, evictions using Section 21 are also known as no-fault evictions.
If a tenant remains in the property beyond the notice given, a landlord can seek a court order to have them removed. A judge will then decide if a hearing is required to establish if the Section 21 notice has been issued correctly. If a possession order is given, the tenant will be given a date to leave the property. If they stay beyond this, the court can instruct bailiffs to remove them.
Although Section 21 notices do not require tenants to be at fault, specific rules must be followed in order for a no-fault eviction to be valid.
What is a Section 21 notice?
The Section 21 notice is the written communication from the landlord to the tenant that they are seeking to evict them.
The notice itself should be given through tenancy form 6A in England, or a letter that includes all of the same information as the form. If a tenant has an assured shorthold tenancy agreement or periodic tenancy, but does not receive this form or an equivalent as part of a no-fault eviction notice it may mean that they can challenge the landlord’s right to reclaim the property.
In Wales, the notice should take the form of a letter from the landlord and clearly state that an eviction notice is being served under Section 21 of the Housing Act 1998.
What is the Section 21 notice period?
Once a tenant receives a notice, the amount of time they will have to vacate the property varies.
In England, a Section 21 notice must give tenants at least two months to move out but it could take longer. If the fixed-term period of a tenancy agreement has ended and the tenancy has become periodic, the notice period must be the same length of time as the ‘rental period’. That means if a tenant pays rent every six months, the notice must be six months. If a tenant pays rent monthly, the notice must be a minimum of two months.
In Wales, there must be six months between a tenant being issued with a Section 21 notice and the start of court proceedings to begin eviction.
How has the Section 21 notice changed due to Covid-19?
Some specific rules around Section 21 were changed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, but have since been reinstated.
However, the temporary rules may still be relevant. In England, if a tenant was sent a Section 21 notice between 26 March 2020 and 28 August 2020, their notice period should have been at least three months.
If issued between 29 August 2020 and 31 May 2021 it would need to have been at least six months.
Between 1 June 2021 and 30 September 2021, the minimum notice period was four months.
In Wales, notices issued between 27 March 2020 and 23 July 2020 should have been at least three months.
If a tenant is issued with a Section 21 notice stating an incorrect notice period, they may have grounds to contest their eviction.
What makes the Section 21 notice period invalid?
A Section 21 notice period could be invalid for many reasons. For example, the length of the notice must be at least the legal minimum at the time it was issued. If it is a fixed-term tenancy the notice must also not end before the fixed term expires or be issued within four months of a tenancy starting.
The landlord must also fulfil certain criteria in order to end a tenancy using Section 21. A valid tenancy should include:
- A correctly protected deposit.
- A recent gas safety certificate, energy performance certificate and an up-to-date copy of the government’s ‘How to Rent’ guide.
- A deposit of not more than five weeks’ rent (or six weeks if the annual rent exceeds £50,000).
- No tenant fees paid to the landlord, which are now banned, such as administration, reference or contract renewal fees.
- If it is a house in multiple occupation (HMO), the landlord must have a licence.
- In Wales, a tenancy starting after November 2016 requires the landlord to have a landlord licence.
A Section 21 notice will also be invalid if a property has been issued with an improvement notice by the local council in the past six months.
If you are concerned a Section 21 notice is invalid, you can contact Citizens Advice or housing charities for free guidance.
Serving a Section 21 notice
A Section 21 notice must be from a landlord or an agent employed to act on their behalf.
If it does not fulfil certain criteria, the notice could be challenged in court.
Where can I find a Section 21 form?
Forms relating to tenancy agreements can be found on the government’s website, Gov.uk.
The relevant form for issuing a Section 21 notice in England is tenancy form 6A. In Wales, landlords are not required to use any specific form but must reference Section 21 of the Housing Act 1998 when they write to the tenant.
When will Section 21 be abolished?
At the time of writing, Section 21 remains in legal use. The Big Issue reported in November 2021 that government statistics showed county courts had heard 25,752 possession orders between April 2019 and June 2021.
The government first committed to abolishing Section 21 in April 2019. Theresa May, Prime Minister at the time, said Section 21 meant “millions of responsible tenants could still be uprooted by their landlord with little notice, and often little justification”.
This commitment was reaffirmed by her successor, Boris Johnson, later that year when a Renters’ Reform Bill was pledged and abolishing no-fault evictions was included in the Conservative Party manifesto.
It is not clear when the government will act on this commitment and no-fault evictions remain a popular way for landlords to reclaim properties.
If you have been issued with a Section 21 notice in England or Wales and are unsure about your rights, you can get free help from Shelter England, Shelter Cymru, Crisis and Citizens Advice.
Tenants facing eviction in Scotland should contact Citizens Advice Scotland or Shelter Scotland, while those in Northern Ireland can contact Housing Advice for Northern Ireland.
If you are at risk of being made homeless in the next eight weeks, you should also contact your local authority.
Image source: Getty Images
John Ellmore is a director of NerdWallet UK and is a company spokesperson for consumer finance issues. John is committed to providing clear, accurate and transparent financial information. Read more
Joel Kempson is a personal finance expert and writer at NerdWallet. He has previously written for Money.co.uk and Uswitch, as well as being quoted in the Daily Express, The Mirror and The Sun. Read more