A guide on section 21 for rentals


In this article, section 21 is dissected in detail for what it really involves. Most people know this piece of the law is used to evict tenants. But what does it really entail? From the history of section 21 to whether it will remain in the future. All will be revealed to give the most up to date information relevant for 2022 on this piece of legislation. 

If you don’t understand section 21 notices, you could wrongly evict a tenant and fall into trouble with the law. Despite the regulation, there is a lot of protection for tenants so staying on the right side of the law and evicting a tenant only if necessary and in the right circumstances is crucial for a landlord.

What is Section 21?

Section 21 is a law written in the Housing Act 1988 that states a landlord has the automatic right to possession of their property without giving any reason once the terms of a tenancy agreement have expired. This is one of the 141 different laws that are included in the act and help regulate the housing market.

As a result, landlords frequently exercise this option as and when needed to regain possession of their home. This section is not to be confused with section 8 which also gives the landlord the right to evict a tenant for different reasons such as the tenant causing damage to the property or the tenant being problematic by not paying rent or causing anti-social behaviour.

A brief history of section 21

After World War One, there was a severe housing shortage in the UK. It was common to find slums and homelessness in the capital and big cities across the UK. This encouraged the government to add protection to tenants who were frequently evicted from their homes at short notice in order to be replaced with whoever was willing to pay higher rents and interest rates on mortgages.

WW1 soldiers causing security tenure

This caused the introduction of the UK’s first form of security tenure. Where tenants have the right to stay in properties except in certain circumstances. The first security tenure was called the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest Act which was published in 1915.

Following this, there have been additions to this piece of legislation including the rent act 1977 and the landlord and tenant act 1954

Following these, came the housing act of 1988 which includes section 21. Throughout history, the law has been refined and amended to produce regulations that protect tenants.

An example of how British history has shaped modern-day regulations. This is why section 21 notices are under negotiation in parliament to be abolished as some believe the law is outdated and gives too much power to landlords who can evict a tenant under “no-fault” and with no court costs as there is nothing tenants can do about it.

Why was section 21 introduced?

Section 21 was initially introduced as a security tenure after new tenancy agreements were passed into law. These agreements include assured shorthold tenancy agreements (AST) and assured tenancy agreements.

AST’s are tenancy agreements that allow tenants to rent a property from a landlord for a short period of time but still provide them with 6 months’ worth of protection from eviction under the law with the eviction being retaliatory.

When is section 21 issued?

Section 21 is issued when a landlord wants to regain possession of a property and they have the right to do so in a break clause or end of a tenant’s agreement and for no particular reason. 

When issuing the act, you also have to make sure the act applies to the tenancy agreements that fall under the housing act of 1988. For example, you cannot issue a section 21 notice to tenants if you are a landlord who lives on the same property as your tenant. Visit this link for a full list of tenancies to the Housing Act of 1988 and section 21 don’t apply to.

How long does section 21 last?

Section 21 lasts for 2 months before the landlord can take a tenant to court with an N215 for not leaving the property. First, a landlord should issue a notice stating their plans to regain possession of the property. Two months later, if the tenant has not moved on in correspondence with the notice, legal action to evict the tenant with bailiffs can be taken.

Court issuing bailiffs under section 21

The repossessing of the property can take a further 4 – 6 months if the tenant doesn’t move out willingly while the section 21 notice is valid. Ultimately, in the most serious cases of tenants staying in properties despite a section 21 notice, a landlord can take up to 10 months to evict a tenant if there are court hearings and bailiffs involved.

How to serve section 21?

The process for serving a section 21 involves a tenant’s rental agreement coming to an end or there being a break in their agreement altogether. During this break, the landlord can negotiate the terms of the agreement or issue a section 21 notice to regain possession and evict the tenant.

Once the landlord knows they have the right to do this they must issue the tenant with a notice which is known as a form 6A seen here.

This notice includes the name of the tenant, the date as to which you expect them to leave (has to be at least 2 months after the date of the notice), the address of the property, the details of the landlord and the date when the notice was issued.

It is important to note this form doesn’t have to be the exact same form printed out from the government website, it just has to include all the relevant information.

Next, all landlords can do is wait until the date on which they expect the tenant to move out at least two months later. After this date, the landlord will have 4 – 6 months, depending on the type of tenancy agreement in place to repossess the property legally while the section 21 notice is still valid.

When is a section 21 notice valid

In general, if a landlord has a tenant or tenants who haven’t signed a new agreement and there is a break clause in their tenancy or it has come to an end. The landlord is within their right to repossess the property under a valid section 21 claim.

However, there is a range of scenarios which invalidates a section 21 notice where the tenant has a right to stay in the property legally.

  • It has been four months or less since the tenancy started. This even includes periodic or rolling tenancies where there is no end date to the agreement
  • Where the landlord has received a health hazard warning from the local authority within the last six months. This can include an invalid EPC certificate for example.
  • If the landlord owns an HMO that requires a licence.
  • If the tenant has a rolling tenancy that has been in place before the 6th of April 2007 and the landlord is yet to comply with tenant deposit protection legislation seen here
  • If a landlord has violated the terms of a tenancy agreement by keeping deposits unfairly or charging tenants with cleaning, admin or referencing fees
  • If any other residential property doesn’t comply with section 79 of the housing act 2004 which requires certain licensing in order to operate, see here.
  • If a landlord hasn’t issued a tenant with a physical copy of a How to Rent guide when a tenant moved into a property and the tenant didn’t request it to be sent digitally.
  • The landlord has issued a form 6A but it has expired.

Overall, most of the things relating to invalidating a section 21 notice refer to landlords not doing their job in meeting the terms of their end of the tenancy agreement. Most of the time, if a landlord is on top of these things by implementing things like regular PPM checks, they’ll have a valid section 21 claim.

Landlord writing a form 6A for a section 21 notice

What should a landlord do when a section is valid?

The first thing a landlord should do if they know they have the right to evict a tenant under a section 21 notice is to act quickly. This is because even if the tenant doesn’t take the full two months’ notice to move out of the premises, they will need some time to gather their belongings, find a new place and leave.

Typically, a landlord will want to evict a tenant to raise rents, do renovations or even sell a property. As a result, the sooner they evict a tenant the sooner they can move on with their business. However, a landlord can still sell their investment with a tenant in situ, they just have to provide a section 11.

However, if section 21 is invalid because a landlord has given the notice too soon into a new tenancy (4 months or less) or they don’t give a two-month period for the tenant to move out. The landlord will have voided the section 21 notice which will delay the landlord from evicting the tenant again for 12 weeks.

So, in order to act quickly they also need to be confident they are complying with the Housing act of 1988 and the terms of the tenancy agreement they signed.

Is it bad for a landlord to use section 21?

Section 21 often carries negative connotations because it is associated with evictions and repossessing of a property. However, upon understanding the law, it should be clear that a landlord shouldn’t feel bad or feel they are being immoral for issuing a section 21.

Evicting a tenant and regaining possession of a property doesn’t have to be dramatic, involve the court or even any form of disagreement between a landlord and tenant. Even though it can go there, it is useful to think of section 21 notice as an amicable agreement in most cases.

Especially when there are well-founded reasons for evicting a tenant and it can even be discussed under a verbal agreement when a landlord is likely going to need a tenant out of the property anyway. It is just best practice to put eviction in a written formal document in case something was to go wrong.

Why would a landlord serve section 21?

Landlords typically use the property as an investment so evicting tenants under section 21 is usually business related rather than because they don’t like the tenant or they want them gone for being a nuisance. However, it is without a doubt that there are some landlords like this.

Such a business decision could be the landlord wanting to sell the property because they think there has been some appreciation on the property and they want to invest in an area with higher rental yields. Or it could be the case they want to increase rents on the property under section 13 and a tenant disagrees with the terms.

How much does a section 21 notice cost?

If all goes to plan, evicting a tenant under section 21 shouldn’t cost you any money as a landlord. The only small cost would be posting form 6A to your tenant to give them the notice of eviction.

Landlord paying for section 21

However, if a tenant refuses to leave your property and you have to take them to court, this is where things can get costly. The next step would be to try and get a bailiff to evict your tenant. This can involve physically removing them from the property which you would have to have a court order for.

How to get a court order for section 21

There are a few scenarios to take legal action. Firstly, if your tenant owes you rent or money in any way, you would have to first open a standard possession procedure. Click here to find the necessary form to fill out and take to your local court that deals with home repossession.

Once you have done this, the tenant will receive a copy of the document and the court will most of the time decide to issue the tenant with a possession order if they do not challenge the document. Or, if there is insufficient evidence provided by the landlord the tenant may be invited to court for a hearing. 

This usually will have a time period of maximum six weeks in which the court will send bailiffs to physically remove the tenant from your property or provide them with a court date. Once they have been removed, a landlord can regain their property.

These rules were suspended during the pandemic so if you have an ongoing claim from before the 3rd of August 2020, you will have to pay at least £275 to reopen this court order. To do this fill out this N244 application notice to continue with your legal inquiry.

Section 21 as Tenants

Despite tenants not being able to do anything about a landlord issuing a valid section 21, it is still important they remain informed about the law so a landlord cannot unfairly evict them from a property.

At the same time, a tenant may get themself into unnecessary court hearings and legal problems by thinking a section 21 notice isn’t valid. If you’re a tenant, knowing the law coupled with your tenancy agreement is highly recommended.

Can a tenant ignore a section 21 notice?

A tenant can ignore a section 21 notice if they choose to but this is not to say it won’t come without consequences. If a landlord has the right to issue their section 21 it is only a matter of time before the tenant is eventually evicted.

Can a tenant disagree with a section 21 notice?

Absolutely, a tenant can disagree with the section 21 notice if they think the landlord is evicting them unfairly. In addition, even if the landlord is evicting them in accordance with their tenancy agreement such as at the end of or within a break clause of their tenancy, there still may be secondary issues that render the section 21 notice invalid.

For example, if a landlord cannot provide a valid gas safety certificate (CP12) or a valid EPC certificate that is passing by at least an E as of 2022, this means the building is considered a safety hazard. If this has been identified by a local authority (which a tenant can do by reporting them), then a landlord cannot evict a tenant under section 21 notice within 6 months.

Tenants moving after section 21 eviction

What happens if a tenant stays after a section 21 notice?

This will result in the landlord likely first trying to come to a verbal agreement due to the financial and time involved to take a tenant to court. If a landlord cannot settle the dispute verbally or by potentially offering some form of compensation, then they will produce an order to repossess the property.

This process is usually over within 2 months. Especially if the landlord can provide all necessary legal documents to the court quickly. A tenant may get a final chance to explain themself at a court hearing but usually, if a standard possessions procedure is done legally, the court evicts the tenant very simply. For more on this procedure click here

Is section 21 being abolished?

Yes, in 2023. The renter’s reform bill was established by The Department of Levelling up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC). Within this bill, it was stated that section 21 will be abolished. 

This means landlords cannot evict a tenant if they don’t do anything to break the terms of a tenancy agreement and tenants will only be able to be evicted for a good reason like the selling of a property.

If section 21 gets abolished, what would this mean for landlords?

There are various opinions across the board but a popular opinion amongst landlords is that the abolition of section 21 notices is not all bad. This is because getting rid of the act actually makes life easier for the good landlords who provide high-quality, safe places for renters.

Section 21 means a landlord doesn’t necessarily have to hold their property to a certain standard because if a tenant complains they can evict them and start again with a new tenant. However, getting rid of section 21 encourages landlords to create a more habitable space as renters are empowered and only settle for the most valuable spaces.

When is section 21 going to be abolished?

In recent years, the government has been changing the rules for the poorest of society. They have been increasing safety measures with the addition of schemes like the building safety fund. The government has said that the latest this could come into effect is May 2023 but the renter’s reform bill will be voted on in parliament by the end of 2022.

Why is section 21 going to be abolished?

The reason for the potential abolition of the act is tenants have expressed a need for greater security within the UK public rental market. They have said that when landlords decide to raise rents to increase their rental income, they do not have the power to challenge these issues with their landlords out of fear of being evicted.

There is a clear divide in the property market because landlords in particular believe they should have the right to increase their rents and repossess their property with a valid notice period whereas the general public thinks these rules only impact the security of families negatively.

This could have knock-on effects on the education of children, and the mental health of families and prevent already struggling renters from having a better quality of life in general.

Woman struggling with mental health after eviction

What will section 21 be replaced with?

Section 21 states the landlord can evict a tenant for no reason as long as they do it within a valid period of their tenancy agreement, after 4 months, in a break clause or at the end of the agreement.

If the law gets abolished, this means all tenancies will become periodic tenancies where tenants pay every month or week. There will simply be no need to have break clauses in an agreement. 

Other than this, there are also promises to strengthen the laws around section 8, evicting tenants for faults, introducing a new ‘housing court’ and introducing lifetime deposit and history checks for tenants. These all strengthen the rights of landlords under the renter’s reform bill.

To conclude

In conclusion, the law of section 21notices is a complicated section of the house and building act. There are many nuances and plans for the future regarding the act. This means it is mandatory that you consider section 21 in detail and apply it on a case-by-case basis as a landlord when evicting.

This article has been written for information purposes only and in no way offers tax advice or legal guidance.


Does a Section 21 need to be signed by the landlord?

A section 21 does not have to be signed by the landlord just like it doesn’t have to be signed by the tenant

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andreas gerazis

Andreas Gerazis

Experienced landlord

Andreas is a certified landlord with extensive knowledge about the UK property market as he has been actively investing for half a decade. Founder of the first three-in-one property management software, Lofti Proptech, Andreas has a brilliant understanding of the details surrounding what it takes to grow and run a thriving property portfolio.