Reports of landlords serving eviction notices against vulnerable tenants have recently been rising. But what is the actual position? Can a landlord evict a vulnerable person?
What is an eviction notice?
An eviction notice is official notice that your landlord (this could be a private landlord or your council or housing association) wants to evict you.
This must be provided in writing. It must also say why your landlord wants you to leave and state the date they will begin the court process. It must give you the right amount of notice and, in the UK, this timescale and the conditions for the eviction will depend on the type of tenancy agreement involved:
1. Assured Shorthold Tenancies (ASTs):
A Section 21 notice can be served to terminate the tenancy either after the fixed-term period has ended or during the tenancy if the tenancy where at least 4 months of a fixed-term has elapsed or the fixed-term as expired and the tenancy has continued as a statutory periodic tenancy (monthly rolling basis).
With a section 21 notice, the landlord must give at least 2 months’ notice in writing and in the required form. It is also illegal for landlords to evict tenants without a court order or if the only reason for eviction is related to a discrimination or retaliation against the tenant (as it could well be in the case of a vulnerable tenant).
Another form of notice which can be given by a landlord is a section 8 notice, which can be used to end an AST during the initial fixed term. The grounds upon which the notice is served may be mandatory (where the court must order possession where the ground is proved). The could be discretionary (where, even if the ground is proved, the court must also be satisfied that it is reasonable to make a possession order). For example, where a tenant falls into rent arrears (ground 8), the notice period can be as little as 2 weeks and, if proved, the court must order possession of the property to the landlord (mandatory ground).
2. Assured Tenancies
A landlord can only terminate an assured tenancy by obtaining a court order should the tenant breach certain conditions of their tenancy. These most commonly include rent arrears and anti-social behaviour.
3. Regulated Tenancies
Again, with a regulated tenancy a landlord can only terminate the tenancy by obtaining a court order in the event the tenant has breached the terms of their tenancy agreement.
With all three types of tenancy, it is important to note the eviction process must follow strict rules and regulations in the UK. This process can be complex and time-consuming, particularly if the person the eviction notice has been served against could be considered vulnerable.
Who is a vulnerable person?
In very general terms a person is considered to be vulnerable because of:
- Old age
- A mental health condition
- A disability
There are however other vulnerable groups including:
- Young people (for example 16 and 17 year olds without the support of their families or friends and not under the protection of an institution or the social service)
- People fleeing harassment (actual violence, threats of violence or psychological or emotional harassment)
- Victims of trafficking and modern slavery (including victims of sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, labour exploitation and criminal exploitation)
- Refugees and people who have fled conflict
- Former members of the regular armed forces
- People who have previously spent time in prison
- People who are over 21 but have spent significant time in care
- Single parents with dependents
Can a landlord evict a vulnerable person?
As with any tenancy, your landlord must have a particular reason to evict you. Again, this will depend on how you occupy your home.
If you are a lodger, your landlord doesn’t need a reason to evict you. They can just ask you to leave.
If you are a private tenant renting under an assured shorthold tenancy, your landlord does not need to provide a reason for evicting you. They will need to send you a ‘section 21 notice’ and follow all the correct procedures.
If you are a private tenant renting under any other type of tenancy agreement, e.g. an assured or regulated tenancy, your landlord will need to give their reasons for evicting you. However, the reason must be one of the legally recognised ‘grounds for possession’:
- Your rent is in arrears
- You or people who live with you have behaved in an antisocial or criminal way
- You’ve allowed the property to get into disrepair due to your neglect
If one or more of these reasons is cited in your eviction notice, we would suggest you immediately seek legal advice.
However, if you feel the reason for your eviction is that your landlord is discriminating against you because, for example, you have a mental health condition or are of advancing age and they would prefer another tenant to take your place, this could potentially be classed as direct discrimination.
It is important to note this would still be the case if the landlord does not need to give you a reason for your eviction as you are renting under an assured shorthold tenancy.
Alternatively, your landlord’s decision to evict you could be considered ‘discrimination arising from disability’. For example, you may have a mental health condition and your rent arrears have arisen because you haven’t been able to work. Or you may be elderly and have made rash financial decisions at a time during which you were confused or unable to take advice from family or friends. Or, you may have had to leave the property for an extended period time to get treatment for your baby because you are the sole carer.
If a situation like this has arisen and your landlord tries to evict you and reclaim possession of your home, you may be able to prove discrimination. This would force the court to investigate your situation.
However uncomfortable it may feel, bringing your situation to the court’s attention is important. Even if they find the landlord’s reasons were justified, they may be able to encourage you and your landlord to find an alternative, mutually beneficial resolution.