Eviction isn’t something anyone really wants to talk about, but it is important for all those living in student accommodation to know the facts.
What do I do if my landlord wants to evict me?
Most landlords follow the correct legal procedure, but some landlords have tried to evict their tenants with without lawful reason, believing that as they own the house, they can force the tenants to leave.
There are actually very few legal means by which a landlord can order a tenant to leave within a very short space of time, to change the locks or to throw a tenant or their possessions out on the street.
It is likely that doing so, or attempting to do so, is a criminal offence. If you are in this situation or are threatened with this, get independent legal advice immediately.
The eviction procedures depend on your type of contract. Most students will have an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST), but some will have a licence or common law tenancy such as the ones granted by universities or Sulets.
These agreements give less protection against eviction and give the landlord a simpler way to end your agreement. This is because student accommodation is generally intended to be of a short-term nature, unlike other forms of tenancy by which many families rent their homes.
What are the reasons for eviction?
Eviction mostly happens because a tenant has repeatedly or seriously broken the rules in their contract. The most common reason is rent arrears, anti-social behaviour or a breach of terms of the contract.
However, there are other reasons for eviction which do not involve fault on the part of the tenant. For example: the landlord having previously lived in the house as their home wants to do so again; the landlord’s mortgage company want to sell the property because the landlord has defaulted on mortgage payments; or the landlord wants to redevelop the property and believe they can’t do this with the tenant still living there.
If the landlord gives you notice to leave the property but despite the notice you decide to stay in the property, the landlord cannot force you out, but must apply to court for a possession order.
However, if you do not leave and the landlord goes to court and successfully obtains a possession order, it is likely that the court will order you to pay at least some of the landlord’s court fees and legal costs. Such costs are likely to be several hundred pounds.
If a court does grant a possession order, it is likely that you will be ordered to leave within 14 days.
In almost all cases an AST is granted for an initial fixed term – this is sometimes called the contractual term. This is often 6 months but can be for longer. The tenancy agreement will state when the initial term is due to end. If you remain in the property after the end of the fixed term, the tenancy continues and becomes a “statutory periodic tenancy”.
Ending before the end of the initial fixed term:
The Housing Act 1988 sets out the only lawful grounds for ending an AST before the end of the initial term and devides them into “mandatory” and “discretionary” grounds.
If the landlord can produce evidence and convince a court that one or more of the mandatory grounds applies, the court must issue an order requiring you to leave the accommodation and give possession to the landlord.
If one or more of the discretionary grounds applies, the court will order you to leave only if it is reasonable to do so.
The landlord must first give you written notice and set out the reasons for eviction (a “section 8 notice”). The notice must be in the form stated in regulations and must state the ground(s) being relied on and give a date before which legal action will not start.
The length of notice will depend on the ground being used and can range from immediate notice to two months. The notice must contain information set out by law such as your name, address and the correct notice period to leave the property.
If these key facts are absent, it is not valid notice and you can argue that the landlord cannot ask you to leave.
Ending after the end of the initial fixed term:
The landlord can terminate an AST after the end of the initial term or at the end of the fixed term, even though you have not broken any terms of the tenancy. This is known as a “no-fault” possession.
The landlord must issue you with two month’s notice (a “section 21 notice”). The notice must be in the form stated in regulations.
If any of these situations apply and the landlord issues you with a Section 21 notice, it is likely that the notice will be invalid:
- it’s less than 6 months since the tenancy started
- the fixed term hasn’t ended, unless there’s a clause in the contract which allows a section 21 to be issued (a “break” clause)
- the property is a house in multiple occupation (HMO) and doesn’t have a HMO licence from the council
- the council has served an improvement notice on the property in the last 6 months
- the council has served a notice in the last 6 months that says it will do emergency works on the property
- the landlord hasn’t protected your deposit in a deposit protection scheme and provided you with information about the scheme
Ending other tenancies:
Some accommodation providers such as Universities and Sulets do not grant ASTs. The tenancies granted by these providers are known as common law tenancies (though confusingly, they are sometimes referred to as licences).
However, in almost all cases, the landlord must still follow legal process to evict a tenant.
The landlord can end a common law tenancy by giving written notice requiring the tenant to leave the property. There is no need for them to have specific grounds to do this.
In almost all cases the notice must give at least 4 weeks’ notice and must provide certain information about tenant rights. Unlike an AST the tenancy will end on the date stated in the notice.
If a tenant does not leave in response to the notice, the landlord will need to go to court for a possession order.
What are the affects of a possession order?
The possession order will state the date by which you must leave the property and any costs that you must pay. If a tenant does not leave the property by the deadline set, the landlord must employ bailiffs or other enforcement officers to force a tenant to leave the property.
If your landlord is threatening you with eviction or sends you a letter which asks you to leave the property or you get court paperwork relating to you leaving, get advice immediately. This is a serious matter – do not delay.
For further information visit the Citizens Advice pages.