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Four renters on dealing with unfair evictions by shit landlords

The ‘no-fault’ eviction law – Section 21 – is getting scrapped, a huge triumph for this generation of renters

Generation rent knows all too well the struggles of the life of a tenant. Dodgy landlords, mouldy walls, box rooms, and absurd living situations – the renting sector is wild. But thankfully, in a move that will mix up the market and has outraged landlords, the government has just made life a little easier for renters in England.

Under new government plans, private landlords will no longer be able to evict tenants without good reason. The plan is to scrap Section 21, which allows landlords to evict tenants at the end of a fixed-term tenancy. Section 8, which is served when tenants have broken the tenancy, will also be reformed in an upcoming consultation.

Section 21 has often enforced poor living situations, as renters who complain to their landlord or local authority are more likely to receive a Section 21 notice than those who don’t – these ‘revenge evictions’ result in tenants living in grim accommodation to avoid the risk of losing their home altogether.

But the End Unfair Evictions campaign coalition, made up of London Renters Union, Tenants Union UK, Generation Rent, ACORN and New Economics Foundation fought to abolish Section 21, with their petition gaining more than 50,000 signatures from angry renters in just 10 weeks.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Government plans to abolish no-fault evictions represent an outstanding victory for England’s 11 million private renters. This change will slam the brakes on unstable short-term tenancies and give tenants everywhere a massive boost in security, for which the government will deserve great credit.

“Ending Section 21 evictions will transform these renters’ lives – giving them room to breathe and put down roots in a place they can finally call home. Getting this new legislation through parliament is critical to people being able to stay in their rented home as long as they need, so we look forward to the government passing this law as quickly as possible.”

While this planned policy change is a victory for people renting in England, Scotland has required landlords to give a reason for evicting tenants since 2017. Similar plans have been announced for Wales, however there is no intention to shake up the Northern Irish rental market just yet.

This is only one of many rental policies that need to be changed if we’re ever going to live in a renters’ market, but scrapping this law is a huge step in the right direction. Here, we speak with people who were served Section 21 notices on how this change would have affected them.

OLIVIA SHEPPARD, CAMDEN

“I lost my home in Camden a year and a half ago and I’m still living with my parents. I got the money together for a deposit and I moved into a house on a 24-month assured shorthold tenancy (AST). At the end of that we were served a Section 21 because the landlord wanted to sell. It’s very difficult for me to find a private landlord because I’m disabled and can’t work, and I’m on benefits.

We managed to find another place and the exact same thing happened. The landlady hadn’t exchanged on the property when we moved in, so as soon as our tenancy came to an end she served us a Section 21 because she wanted to sell it. Since it costs a lot of money to move house, that swallowed up my deposit. All my savings have been lost by having to move house, I’ve moved house 10 times in the last eight years.

The other problem is, when you’ve exhausted the possibilities of the private rental market, and you don’t have children and you’re on your own, you’re at the bottom of the list for social housing. I’ve been told by Shelter, by Generation Rent, by my councillor, that there is no hope of getting a council flat and because I’m on benefits, I can’t find a private landlord.

I’ve also lived in Holland and in Switzerland where it is very normal for people to rent, they don’t have the impulse to own property. When you rent, it’s your place, as it should be. The rents are long term and you rent until you’re ready to move. In this country, everybody needs to try to own property or get into social housing because private rentals are expensive and not secure.

I’m absolutely delighted to hear about the changes in the law, and I hope it has a big impact on the way we rent. It would have made a huge difference to me. I wouldn’t be in this position I’m in now.”

EAMMON JACOBS, SOUTHAMPTON

“In February last year, my housemates and I were called up and were told that our landlord had died, and the family had decided to sell the house. We were told that although we could leave our contracts without any penalties we had to vacate the premises within a week. After that, the new landlord wanted to keep my full deposit to fix damages in the house – that were already there – and it was only after I contested the claim with the photos from the day I moved in that I managed to get the money back.

The new housing act makes me very hopeful and I’ll feel a lot safer as a renter. Having to pack up and move out in such a short space of time was incredibly stressful and emotionally taxing, especially knowing that this was all being done just for profit. Hopefully knowing that there will be stricter criteria for landlords to evict tenants will make them think twice about doing so unlawfully.”

ESME LEWIS-GARTSIDE, SOUTH EAST LONDON

“I actually got evicted twice in one year in 2018. In the first house our landlord was pretty incompetent. There were loads of issues with the plumbing and we didn’t have hot water for three months. He kept sending his mates round to fix the pipes which obviously wasn’t working because they weren’t professionals. It got to a point that the pipes burst and flooded three rooms in our house. We basically got forcibly evicted because he said he was bankrupt.

Then, the second house we moved into, we were under a lot of pressure to find somewhere to live as me and another girl were homeless for a month over Christmas. Our second landlord was an arsehole. We had a broken toilet for two months and when he finally came round to ‘fix it’ he left the old toilet in our house. We got evicted in August because he wanted more money for the rent. And he also tried to charge us for loads of furniture and damages when we left that just weren’t real.

I think it’s amazing that they’ve changed that law, renting in London is a nightmare and landlords seem to take the piss. Obviously, I’d like to see a change in rental prices. It puts so much pressure on our generation to go into jobs we don’t like just to maintain the money for rent. The capitalist system we exist in is set up to see us fail or to see us pursue lines of work we aren’t interested in to earn money to pay rent. Rent is all part of a systematic issue keeping a separation between classes.

I’m currently living in a warehouse with no shower because paying £600 rent per month isn’t an option for me. I work four jobs at the moment to pay rent and fund myself creatively. At some point I want to own a property, but in the near future I would like to move into an actual living space, but I haven’t got enough money for a deposit at the moment. If anyone reads this and wants to buy me a flat let me know.”

AMINA GICHINGA, LONDON RENTERS UNION

“I’m the organiser of the Newham and Leytonstone branch of the London Renters Union and we have people come to our regular meetings all the time having been given Section 21 eviction notices – sometimes together we support each other to resist evictions by getting in the way of the bailiffs.

Getting a Section 21 eviction notice turns your whole world upside down and forces people to move away from their community and support network. The threat of getting an eviction notice stops people from complaining or asking for repairs – 140,000 tenants have been victims of Section 21 revenge evictions since 2015.

We’ve been demanding an end to this law as part of the End Unfair Evictions coalition and it’s great to see our pressure pay off. Renters are getting organised and turning anger about the housing crisis into effective political action – together we can win a housing system that's based on everyone having a decent home rather than just generating profits for landlords and estate agents.

When this goes through, landlords will only be able to evict renters if they sell up or move back in. Today’s announcement will make a big difference, but without rent controls, landlords will still be able to raise the rents beyond what people can afford and push people out that way. We have a crisis of social cleansing and gentrification in our city so we need rent controls to help stop migrants and working class people being displaced from their communities.”