So Are We Getting Rid of S21, or What?

12th May 2021 Commercial Litigation

The Queen’s Speech is a key event in the Parliamentary calendar. In it the government sets out, in broad terms, its legislative plan for the coming Parliamentary session. It is therefore closely observed by those of us who are trying to work out what the government is planning to do on a range of matters, including private sector residential tenancies.

11 May saw the Queen’s Speech for 2021. This was of interest for the PRS as we waited to see what the government was going to do about s21 notices under the Housing Act 1988. These were actually in the last Queen’s Speech where the government set out its intention to pass legislation to do away with them. As such, there was no specific requirement to mention this, or other business being carried over from previous Parliaments, although these issues usually are covered, at least in passing, so that its possible to get an overview of the proposed Parliamentary calendar.

This year’s Queen’s Speech made mention of renting with the brief phrase “while enhancing the rights of those who rent.” A number of commentators immediately leapt on this phrase as meaning that the proposals to get rid of s21 were still very much on the cards.

However, a short 15-miunte speech is hardly the full story of the Government’s plans. There is a detailed briefing document that is published alongside every such Queen’s Speech which actually tells you what these soundbites really mean. At page 113 in this year’s document there is a discussion of tenancy reform.

From looking at this it seems rather as though the government is backing away from its commitment to get rid of s21. There is no commitment here to publish a bill to do this. Given that bills were being promised in both the spring and autumn of 2021 that is very telling. Instead, the government has now committed itself to finally publishing its response to the original consultation on getting rid of s21. A response which it has never in fact published. That is a very much weaker offer. Almost as if there is a desire to distract from this there is, mainly repeated, talk of “lifetime” deposits and landlord redress schemes. There is also a statement that the government will “explore the merits of a landlord register”.

On timing we seem to have moved much further down the track. The government is now proposing a white paper for this autumn with legislation “in due course”.

This seems to me like a textbook example of kicking s21 reform into the long grass. It is clear nothing will be happening in that regard for at least a year, and possibly far longer. So I very much disagree with the suggestions that this means the government is still highly committed to reform. Agents and landlords will be cheering at this while tenant groups will, with some cause given the expectations that government casually gave to them, be furious.

At the same time, I am not sure that landlords should be celebrating too hard. The plan to consider landlord registration looks like something that will get traction. After all it exists in all of the devolved jurisdictions in some form or another and England looks increasingly like the odd-one-out in this regard. The government might also see it as a beneficial mechanism to allow for communication with landlords, something that has always been a challenge.

It seems like 2021 could still be an interesting year in landlord and tenant law but the nature of the interest has moved.

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David Smith is a Partner located in Londonin our Commercial Litigation department

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