What to do if you’re being evicted

Being forced out of your rented home is not a position anyone wants to be in, and although it may be necessary in the landlord’s eyes there is still a chance that the eviction is unlawful. Here we look into the common grounds for eviction, what to look out for if you think the eviction is illegal and how you can contest the eviction notice.

But first, let’s look at the stats. According to HomeLet[1], in 2014-2015 there were 4.3 million households that were renting privately, a figure which has consistently risen. Estate agents Knight Frank revealed that in 2021 almost one in four households in Britain will be rented privately, which is around 5 million.[2]

The rising costs of buying a house along with stagnant wages means that many are unable to make that first step onto the property ladder. With this in mind, it is more important than ever that tenant’s rights are protected. There is legislation in place, which must work in a practical sense to be effective.

Types of tenancies

There are two main types of residential tenancies, assured and assured shorthold tenancies. These were introduced in their current form by the Housing Act 1988, with important changes made by the Housing Act 1996. It is most common to let a property under an assured shorthold tenancy; you’ll have this type of tenancy if:

  • your landlord is a private landlord and you are a private tenant;
  • the tenancy began on or after 15 January 1989;
  • the property is let as separate accommodation and is your main home.

If any of the above do not apply, then you may have an assured tenancy.

Assured shorthold tenancies were introduced to restore an imbalance of power and rights between landlords and tenants in a bid to correct a private housing shortage. These types of tenancies allow landlords to charge full market rent and, crucially, let their property for a short time where they can regain control of their property at the end of the period if they want to. This means that tenants can be asked to leave after the fixed term, even if they have done nothing wrong.

Eviction notice held up in front of house

Eviction at the end of the fixed term tenancy –
Section 21 Housing Act 1988

Most assured shorthold tenancies have a fixed term of six or 12 months specified in the tenancy agreement. This means that unless your landlord is able to show you breached your obligations under the tenancy agreement (we will consider this later), they are not able to legally remove you from the property until this period has expired.

However, should your landlord wish to regain possession of their property at the end of the fixed term, or at any time after this period has expired, they are entitled to do so providing they give you at least two months’ notice under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988. You will be required to vacate the property on the date specified in the Section 21 notice. If you fail to do so, your landlord may apply to the court for a possession order and, if necessary, a warrant for eviction to legally remove you from the property.

Eviction during the fixed term tenancy –
Section 8 Housing Act 1988

Put simply, in order to evict you from the property during the fixed term of your tenancy, a landlord must either give a valid reason or show that you breached the terms of your tenancy. There are 17 different grounds a landlord can use to seek possession of their property during the fixed term of your rental agreement; below we briefly look at some of the most common.

Anti-social behaviour

We can all be guilty of having a party that may have carried on for a bit too long, or was a bit too noisy. However, if you repeatedly upset your neighbours and they make a formal complaint then there is an eviction risk. This also goes for your roommates – if you don’t respect their privacy, or keep them up with loud noise, they can also make a formal complaint against your behaviour. A notice can also be served if you use the property for illegal purposes, such as selling drugs or for illegal gambling.

Breach of contract

If you have broken one or more terms in your tenancy agreement, your landlord can look to evict you – even if you pay rent on time. The usual suspects for a breach are if you have pets or smoke inside your property when the agreement explicitly disallows it.

Disrepair or damage

This ground can be relied upon if, since you’ve been living in the property, the property condition and upkeep has fallen drastically. As the tenant, you are responsible for maintaining certain aspects of the property and are obliged to report any problems to the landlord as soon as possible, particularly if these point to larger issues such as structural integrity. Your agreement will specify what repairs your landlord is responsible for, but they can’t fix an issue if they’re not aware of it. Small issues can grow bigger over time, so don’t let the property deteriorate or you could be evicted. This also goes for substantial damage you cause to the property.

False information

Let’s say you needed an employer reference to be able to rent a flat and you couldn’t get one, so you created it yourself. If the landlord was to ever find out and could prove this then they could easily evict you. This also goes for fabricated credit checks and any other references that may be false.

Rent arrears

If you have rent arrears of at least two months, or eight weeks if your rent is payable weekly, then the landlord has the right to serve you with two weeks’ notice to vacate the property and the court is likely to authorise your eviction if you fail to leave as required.

Late rental payments

Similarly to rent arrears, if you are consistently late on your rental payments then the landlord can begin court proceedings to evict you.

Repairs or development

Eviction isn’t always because of something you’ve done wrong. In some cases a landlord may need to undertake extensive repairs or they want to develop the property and feel it isn’t safe for their tenant to live in the property whilst work is underway. In this instance, a landlord can ask you to leave. If you refuse, they can evict you.

Main reasons why landlords rely on grounds for eviction

As you can see, there are a lot of reasons a landlord can rely upon to evict you. According to a survey by Direct Line Landlord Insurance, roughly one in seven tenants break the rules with the worst violations being the most frequent.[3]

Perhaps surprisingly, late rent payments (or any at all) was the worst offender making up 25% of all violations. Smoking in the property closely followed at 21% of all violations. With this in mind, you can see why landlords may need to begin an eviction procedure, but how does that procedure work?

Eviction process and what notice landlords must give

The first thing to know is that a landlord cannot legally evict you from the property without a possession order granted by the court. If they do, they may be committing an offence of unlawful eviction that could land them in trouble. There are a number of steps landlords must follow before a lawful eviction can take place.

The initial step for the landlord’s eviction process is for them to serve the tenant with notice that they require possession of their property on a certain date under Section 21 or Section 8 Housing Act 1988 and, failing that, their intention to apply to court for a possession order to remove them from the property. The length of notice they are required to serve will depend on the reason the tenant must leave the property, but usually it’s at least two weeks.

More information on the process can be found from the Tenant’s Voice here.

How to contest an eviction notice

There are ways to challenge an eviction notice, particularly if you feel it is unlawful. First, look into the grounds your landlord is relying on to evict you. This, or these, will be listed in the notice you must be served, along with the specified move out date.

If the landlord is asking you to vacate because you have breached the tenancy, speak to your landlord directly to see if you can’t iron out the issues before it goes any further. Sometimes a Section 8 notice is used as an attempt at making tenants realise that their actions can have serious repercussions. Failing a promising discussion or outcome, check to see if the landlord made any errors in their notice. Common errors landlords make include:

  • Giving less than two months’ notice before the move out date where possession is sought under Section 21;
  • Serving notice under Section 21, but setting the move out date sooner than the last date of the fixed period for fixed-term tenancies;
  • Not protecting your deposit, which is legally required, through a government-approved scheme;
  • Not giving a valid reason for wanting to evict you during the fixed term of the tenancy.

You might actually want to separate yourself from your landlord as much as they would like to part ways with you, but perhaps you don’t have enough time to find a new living space. In this case, be honest with your landlord and say that you are willing to leave, but want to negotiate the move out date.

Where to get help

The thought of getting kicked out your home is frightening, and getting an eviction notice is the physical embodiment of that. If you have been served an eviction notice and want help to contest it, or want to know your rights as a tenant, contact our housing and property solicitors. We have a network of over 100 offices and can provide you with the practical legal advice you need to challenge an eviction. Contact our team today for a free initial assessment by using the contact form on our website or calling us on 0808 252 2882.

We also recommend referring to this webpage from Shelter, a charity dedicated to supporting people facing homelessness. Learn more here.

[1] HomeLet, ‘How many landlords & tenants are there in the UK?’

[2] The Guardian, ‘Quarter of households in UK will rent privately by end of 2021, says report’

[3] The Tenant’s Voice, 'One in Seven Tenants Break The Rules!'