“No fault evictions should be renamed ‘no fault evictions and the potential destruction of your entire life’.”
61-year-old company director Mark* thought he’d avoided being evicted from his home in central Bristol in April when he agreed to a 30% hike to his rent. But just two months later, his landlord slapped him with another section 21 ‘no fault’ eviction notice – a practice soon to be outlawed by government reforms.
“After we came up with this agreement for the rent to go up in January by 30%, I thought I’d really have to knuckle down and continue to focus on rebuilding the business after lockdown,” says Mark, who like many business owners, moved his operation into a home office following the pandemic.
“So I went out and invested in a lot of new kit and software because I thought I was safe in my home. Only to be told two months later they’ve changed their minds.”
“Considering the present financial climate, the impact of losing my home at 61 will be catastrophic,” Mark says. “If I lose the apartment, I lose my office too. I have a client base that’s taken over 25 years to establish. Without the home office I’m looking at losing that overnight.”
Mark is just one of many Bristol renters served with a section 21 eviction notice in recent months. New data reveals a 46% rise in section 21 eviction claims in Bristol going to court between April and June, compared with the same time last year. There were a total of 83 possession claims, the highest level of any three-month period since 2016.
The upcoming ban on section 21 evictions has been hailed as an important victory for renters’ rights, but as the long-awaited Renters Reform Bill goes through parliament, housing campaigners and charities are warning the Bill must be strengthened to give tenants more security from eviction, especially in common circumstances like the landlord wanting to sell up.
It’s widely known that Bristol’s rental system is broken, with high demand and ever-increasing costs leaving renters in a rat race to find somewhere to live. Median rents in Bristol have risen by 30% in the last three years, according to government data.
And now the state of the economy and current mortgage crisis could force landlords to sell up, or pass their rising costs onto already struggling tenants.
The Cable spoke to renters and campaigners about the recent trends in evictions, whether the Renters’ Reform Bill (RRB) will do enough to provide much-needed security for tenants, and what’s happening next locally in the crusade to tackle the affordability crisis with rent controls.
More landlords selling up, less security for renters
Hannah Aspinall, 33, received a section 21 eviction notice in December last year, and has only just found a secure place to live. “I was pretty crushed,” she tells the Cable. “It was the nicest house I’d lived in with a good group of friends and it was really affordable.
“It was quite a shock to be thrown back out onto the market,” she says. “I looked at so many houses, but many of them were completely out of my budget.”
“I was using a lot of the Facebook groups and it was really noticeable how many people were on there saying their landlords are selling up.”
“It took the floor out from underneath me; and had a really negative affect on my mental health,” she says. “People don’t have any stability.”
Another renter who was turfed out of their home in recent months is Jessie Seal. In April, she and her housemates were handed with the section 21 notice in the same week that Bristol City Council were inspecting to see if their property was up to scratch.
“I understand that if there’s a section 21 in place, then the landlord can’t be fined if they fail a HMO inspection, which is what we believe happened,” says Jessie, adding that the council found a number of issues of disrepair that hadn’t been dealt with by the landlord.
After a tricky search for a new place, she is now lodging with a friend, which she says felt like the only option. “It brings into sharp relief what the next decade looks like, having to move every two to three years.”
Jessie also works for charity Caring in Bristol, providing advice and support to people at risk of homelessness.
“A significant proportion of people access our services because of a section 21 eviction.”
“The two big trends that we see are single parents, predominantly women, who find accessing private renting very difficult and often end up in temporary accommodation, and young people who can’t enter the rental market, who are often working but don’t have financial support around them.”
She is also worried the RRB won’t do enough for renters’ security. “Having looked at the new grounds, it will still be possible to evict tenants in the same no fault way.”
What will the Renters Reform Bill actually change?
Despite contacting his local councillor, local MP, and the council’s private housing team, Mark has been unable to get his landlord to reconsider the eviction. When the landlord issued the first eviction notice in March, the reason given was Mark wasn’t paying enough rent. But the second time around, the landlord said he wanted to move back into the flat to receive treatment in hospital in Bristol.
The RRB, which is still to get its second reading in parliament, will outlaw section 21 evictions, but reforms to other eviction grounds mean that Mark’s situation wouldn’t be any different. If a landlord wants to move themselves or a family member into the property, they will be able to issue a section 8 eviction after the first six months of the tenancy.
One difference is that if the tenant stays in the property, the landlord would have to show evidence in court to prove their reason for eviction. But ‘to ensure maximum flexibility for landlords’, the government will not set out what evidence is needed.
The RRB is also set to introduce new eviction grounds for when the landlord wants to sell up, and for repeated rent arrears, as well as make it easier to evict tenants for anti-social behaviour and expand the set of behaviours that could be deemed anti-social.
According to a survey for Bristol’s Living Rent Commission late last year, the most frequent reason given for eviction is landlords planning to sell the property.
In July, the Renters Reform Coalition wrote to the government condemning the slow speed at which the Bill is going through parliament, highlighting that each day the Bill is delayed, 172 families are served with an eviction notice.
The coalition of housing groups urged for the Bill to be strengthened. They called for a measure to prevent unaffordable rent increases acting as eviction notices, for eviction notice periods to double from two months to four, and the periods at the start of the tenancy where renters are protected from most eviction grounds to be extended from six months to two years.
Affordability must be tackled too
An obvious omission from the RRB is anything to tackle the affordability crisis in the private rented sector, which is what Bristol campaigners have long called for.
In June, Bristol City Council published the report of the Living Rent Commission set up to investigate trends in the city’s private rented sector and make recommendations. The report found there is substantial popular support for rent controls, and called on the council to lobby central government for powers to introduce them.
One of the groups to sit on the commission, alongside academics, landlords and tenant groups, was the Bristol Fair Renting Campaign.
“You can fix all sorts of things about renting, but if the price is too high and people can’t afford to live there, they still haven’t got a home,” says Kate Bower, from the campaign. “The RRB should absolutely be addressing cost.”
The campaign continues to secure powers for local councils to cap rents. “I think [the Commission] has really strengthened the case for everyone fighting for rent controls and a better system,” says Bower.
“The council has already started lobbying the government on rent control powers, but there’s more they can do.” says Ruth Day, another renter who is leading the Fair Renting Campaign. “For example, they haven’t started lobbying for a rent freeze, which is a recommendation of the report that, through lobbying, we managed to get in.
“We are also looking at when the council will hopefully start working with local communities to design what a rent control model for Bristol looks like. We’re seeing some movement from the council, which is really good, but we need to keep the pressure on national government because they’re not going to hand over rent control powers just like that.”
The commission’s recommendations will be taken to the council’s cabinet in September and also to Full Council later in the autumn.
“If they don’t push for a rent freeze, we’ll make a lot more noise around the fact that this is something that they definitely need to do,” says Day.
This week, London Sadiq Khan repeated his call for a two-year rent freeze, after city mayors across the country made similar demands in February this year. However, Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees was not among those calling for the freeze. Rent controls are not currently Labour policy.
“We believe the most likely way this is going to happen and the Tory government is going to move is if core cities come together as a united front,” says Day. “It would be quite easy for Marvin to add his name to that and push with the other core city mayors.”