As a landlord and a property owner, there may come a time when you need to ask your tenants to move out. This needn’t be because they have breached the terms of the tenancy agreement or have been behaving in an antisocial manner. It may just be the case that you wish to sell the property or develop it in a way that requires it to be uninhabited, at least for a short while.
Although your tenants do have a wide range of rights, the property belongs to you. As such, you are within your rights as a landlord to terminate the tenancy for any reason. This has to be done in accordance with correct legal procedure, however, and the way to do this is to serve your tenants with a Section 21 Notice.
Notice of possession
“Section 21” refers to Section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act, which was updated and amended in 1996. This section of the original act set out the right of landlords to regain possession of their property following the end of the contractual fixed term of an assured shorthold tenancy.
The 1996 amendment stipulated that notice of possession had to be given in writing. A more recent amendment means that for tenancies that began after 1st October 2015, the correct form must be used. This can be downloaded online. In either case, written notification to leave the property is known as a Section 21 Notice of Possession.
When to serve a Section 21 Notice
A Section 21 Notice can be issued at any time after the first four months of the tenancy. You can ask the tenants to leave at the end of the fixed term of an assured shorthold tenancy, or at any time in a tenancy with no fixed end date, provided that the tenants are given at least two months’ notice. If rent is paid at periodic intervals longer than two months – quarterly or annually – then they should be given notice at least equal to this period. For instance, if a tenant pays their rent monthly, then they must be given at least two months’ notice. If they pay rent every three months, then they should be given at least three months’ notice.
For a Section 21 Notice to be legally valid, it must be in writing and must state that it is a Section 21 Notice. Spelling mistakes and incorrect information – for instance, getting the name of a tenant wrong – can render the notice invalid. Double-check every aspect of the notice carefully. The notice must include both a start date and an end date, with at least two months between them (see above). The start date should be the date that the notice is served; the end date should be the date that the tenants are required to vacate the property, and should always fall on the last day of any rental period.
If you are trying to evict a tenant because they have broken the terms of their tenancy and you want them out before the fixed term is up, you should issue a Section 8 Notice instead. A Section 21 Notice can be issued for any reason, but the end date must be at the end of the fixed term. If your tenants accept the notice and vacate the property by the specified date, then you will not have to take legal action. However, correctly serving a Section 21 Notice is a prerequisite of seeking repossession through the courts, so in this sense it is the beginning of the legal eviction process.
As mentioned above, if your tenants moved in before October 2015, then you can write your own document, as long as it is made clear in writing on the document that it is a Section 21 Notice of possession. For tenants who began their tenancy after 1st October 2015, the correct form must be used. This is a Section 21(1)b form in the case of ending a fixed term tenancy, and a Section 21(4)a form in the case of periodic tenancies. It is advised that you seek legal advice if you are writing your own document: it is generally easier to use the correct form.
If the tenants have not left by the end date, then you have 12 months from that date to take them to court. You will need to have written proof that you served them with a Section 21 Notice: it is advisable to fill in an N215 Certification of Service form. You will then be able to apply for an accelerated possession order if they have not complied with the notice. Hopefully it won’t come to this, as dealing with uncooperative tenants through the courts can be a costly and drawn-out process. It is advisable to have landlord legal expenses insurance as this will cover your legal costs during the eviction process.
For tenancies started after 2007, a Section 21 Notice can only be used if the tenants’ deposits are lodged in a deposit protection scheme. You must also have provided them with the prescribed information regarding their deposit protection within 30 days of receiving their deposit. If you haven’t done this, then your tenants can make a legal claim against you and you can’t issue a Section 21 Notice until this is resolved.
Section 21 Notice: to recap
Essentially, a Section 21 Notice is a way of asking your tenants to vacate the property after the end of their fixed term, while giving them time to do this. However, if the tenants fail to comply with the terms of the notice, then the document also constitutes the first step of the legal eviction process. The process of serving a Section 21 Notice is fairly simple, but it’s vital that it is correctly worded and that the right information is included. If you are in doubt about anything regarding correct procedure, it is recommended that you seek legal advice.