‘One day, my landlady knocked on the door and issued us with a section 21 no fault eviction notice,’ says Annie*, 34, a teaching assistant from Portsmouth, ‘she said she wanted to decorate the flat and let it to someone else, but what she meant was that she wanted someone who wouldn’t complain about the endless faults on the property. She gave us 6 weeks to leave.’
Annie began renting her current home with her husband five years ago, after an idyllic sell from the landlady, what was sold as a dreamy seafront flat where they could raise their 10-year-old son and new baby girl soon became the rental from hell over the course of a year. ‘Damp and black mould crept in through the walls, we had windows that didn’t close, my baby went to bed at night in a grow bag, two blankets, cot quilts a hat and mittens, and my son did much the same’, says Annie, ‘More and more thing began to go wrong, we had a toilet that didn’t flush, appliances would short out because the electrics were bad, and then we got mice.’
Despite reporting all of the faults to her landlady, Annie either never heard back or was essentially told to expect it in an ‘old building’. Then, she received her first threat of eviction, her landlady claiming she loved the flat and was considering moving back in. ‘My landlady lives in a house akin to a mansion and owns in excess of six properties, there’s no way she was considering moving back into this flat,’ Annie continued, ‘I showed her all the problems. Her answers? Tape up the windows so nothing gets in, paint over the damp and mold, bleed the radiators, and buy more traps. She really didn’t care.’
After a leak in the flat above, which her landlady too owned, there was what Annie describes as ‘an explosion in the bathroom’ with exposed electrics hanging off the wall. ‘One splash of water to it or even a touch of it and we would be dead,’ she said. Then, the restaurant below her started complaining of a leak coming through from Annie's flat to their property, and after two weeks of attempting contact, Annie finally heard back from her landlady to be told it was her fault for not doing anything about the leak sooner, and with the damage then costing £3000, she was warned how easily she could find other tenants for the flat.
Then came the no fault eviction notice, with six weeks to leave. ‘I was terrified, we couldn’t afford to move again,’ says Annie, whose mental health was already ‘in decline because it was so hard living there’. While the section 21 notice was voided by the council, since her landlady had not used a TDS scheme to secure her deposit, Annie's landlady warned her she would ‘make things very difficult’ if they stayed. ‘That was 18 months ago and she has,’ Annie continued, ‘with the usual threats and not fixing things, turning up unannounced, me and my husband have since took the decision to give her our notice. We can’t take anymore.’
Annie’s story is not the only we’ve heard, in fact, you can see so many more just like it from the #ventyourrent hashtag on Twitter. It began this week after Generation Rent released their quarterly eviction and homelessness data, which showed that 216 households are made homeless every single week from landlords using section 21 notices. With homelessness more than trebling in England, from 4,580 cases in 2009 to 16,320 in 2017, the end of private tenancy is now the biggest cause of this problem. In fact, 94% of the rise can be blamed on no-fault evictions according to the research.
As a result, Generation Rent has launched a petition to abolish section 21, which will be delivered to James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State for Housing on Thursday. With almost 50,000 signatures at the time of writing, the petition is supported by hundreds of stories shared on social media detailing the abysmal way people have been evicted from their homes.
‘#VentYourRent has highlighted the scale of the problems renters face,’ says Dan Wilson Craw, director of Generation Rent, ‘short term tenancies, rent increases and unsafe conditions are disrupting the lives of millions of renters, many of whom are raising children or entering old age.
'The government has recognised that people can’t lead a stable life when their tenancy agreements only last 12 months at most. But its proposal for three-year tenancies with various get-out clauses still leaves the threat of evictions hanging over tenants who’ve done everything right.
‘Abolishing Section 21 will allow a much fairer system of tenancies that gives those of us with no prospect of home ownership a shot at a long-term home.’
The stark reality behind renting in the UK has led to calls not only for the end of section 21, but for more people to respond to the government consultation on private sector tenancies. The consultation is currently addressing how to give renters greater security in their tenancy agreements, looking into the possibility of minimum three year tenancies. However, the 'get-out clauses' continue to threaten security and so ultimately abolishing section 21 is a necessity to ensure landlords can no longer abuse their power over renters.
For people like Annie, abolishing section 21 is integral to save more families from going through exactly what she has. 'This has had a very real and profound impact on me and my family, even talking about it makes me feel emotional,' she says, 'I now have nervous stomach problems that I have to take medication for, it's had a huge affect on my marriage, the stress of living like this will effect me forever.'
*name has been changed