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The Difference Between the Housing Act 1988 Terms: Section 8 vs Section 21

Sometimes, landlords find it challenging to understand what procedure they should follow to gain legal possession of their property or evict their tenant legally. We will discuss the key differences and features of the two primary possession proceeding types, provided by the Housing Act 1988: section 21 and section 8. But first, let’s quickly learn what the Housing Act 1988 is all about.
The Housing Act 1988: A Brief Overview
The Housing Act 1988, an Act that was introduced in the United Kingdom’s parliament in January 1989, governs laws that impact the pirate rental sector, including the tenants and the landlords. It essentially introduced the concepts of assured shorthold and assured tenancies and is crucial when it comes to Defining tenant and landlord responsibilities as well as rights across the UK. The act also enlists several exceptions and qualifications surrounding the rules.
Why Was The Act Introduced?
The Housing Act 1988 was designed to ensure that the private rental industry remains fair for both landlords and tenants. Before its introduction, tenancies were ‘statutory and protected’ which means the laws were generally skewed towards the tenant.
Many tenants claimed their right to stay in the rental property for indefinite periods, and would eventually pass them on to other relatives or children. Inherently, this meant that landlords had very little control over their property, and this caused many to shy away from the rental market. The Thatcher government’s Right to buy scheme and many such factors led to the shrinking landscape of the private rental market, and also paved the way for the Housing Act 1988.

What Were The Outcomes Of The Act?

The act was fundamentally designed to redress the balance between landlord and tenant rights while providing landlords more control over the possession of their property. The government aimed to revive the waning private rental market by doing this. They made changes to three key areas of the English Property Law, including:

·  Succession

Before the Housing Act 1988, anyone including relatives could inherit the rental rights, but now if the tenants pass away and had an assured tenancy, only their spouse is liable to inherit them. However, if they had assured short-hold tenancies, no other beneficiary or spouse has the right to succession. Simply put, they have no right to remain in the property, and the landlord possesses the power to serve a Section 21 notice to the tenants to evict them through the court. 

· Rent Regulation

Previously, rent was immaculately regulated by government bodies and varied according to factors such as location, condition, and age of the property. The Housing Act 1988, however, significantly reduced the regulations and provided landlords an opportunity to set whatever rents they liked for their property. Furthermore, the right to challenge a particular rent set by the landlord remained only in the hands of the tenants, but they also can be used only under certain limited circumstances.

· Security of Tenure

The Housing Act 1988 played a crucial part in splitting the two essential types of tenancies into two:

#1 Assured Tenancy

This is a type of long-term tenancy agreement which closely resembles the ‘protected’ rental agreements that existed before the Housing Act 1988. While these are rarely used by private landlords, they provided some rights to the landlords, such as the right to evict tenants if there are serious rent arrears and some other circumstances. They are more commonly utilized by housing providers and associations.

#2 Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST)

These are fixed-term, and one of the most common forms of tenure for residential tenancies, as they offer tenants the right to challenge the set rental price within six months of the tenancy. They also offer an additional ground for possession, which means landlords can more easily reclaim their properties under some particular set rules defined under section 21 and section 8 of the 1988 Act.

Section 8 And Section 21: The Main Differences

Section 21 and Section 8 are both used to serve notice to tenants on assured shorthold tenancies, but they’re quite different, which means it’s important to understand their intricacies before sending them so that unnecessary expenses or delays can be avoided.   

What’s A Section 8 Notice?

As per the Housing Act 1988, the section 8 notice (Possession Notice or Quit Notice) can be served by landlords in very limited yet precise circumstances to end a tenancy before the fixed term. It aims to terminate an AST and is mainly served when the tenant has demonstrably breached the agreement or statutory obligation of the tenancy, by for example, failing to pay rent which results in arrears accruing to more than at least two months rental. Another instance can be when circumstances have effectively rendered the terms of a tenancy agreement void although it is not for the landlord to render the tenancy void.  It merely paves the way for a landlord to end the tenancy by way of county court proceedings and obtain vacant possession by way of a court authorised bailiff.

These notices can’t be issued just because the landlord suddenly changes their mind and wants to move into the property or doesn’t like the tenants, without the tenants being given a minimum amount of time to enjoy the property, correct the breach or find alternative accommodation. Serving a Section 8 notice doesn’t guarantee granting possession but is reliant on a landlord demonstrating to a county court judge that their tenant has breached the terms of the tenancy or their statutory obligations before they can be permitted to end the tenancy and recover the property.

The grounds for possession under which the Section 8 notice can be served are outlined under the Schedule 2 of the Housing Act 1988. They fall under two prime categories, including discretionary and mandatory. Typically, if the notice has been served under mandatory grounds, the court must grant the possession to the respective landlord if the ground for possession is proven, whereas, if it’s served on discretionary grounds, the court has the right to choose whether it should grant an order for possession thereby allowing the landlord to instruct a bailiff to obtain vacant possession should a tenant refuse to leave.

However, a landlord can’t, under any circumstances, evict the tenant without obtaining the order for possession from a court first and enforcing this order by way of a court authorised bailiff. It can prove to be less costly to serve a Section 21 rather than a section 8 notice as a tenant has a right to contest the breach in court if they aren’t willing to surrender the property.  Both a section 8 and section 21 notice can be served in parallel.  However, a landlord can secure a money Judgment for any arrears when progressing recovery proceedings after serving a Section 8 notice.  

What’s A Section 21 Notice? 

This notice is a provision, designed to inherently accelerate and streamline the procedure of gaining possession for landlords after the expiry of a tenancy. It automatically gives the right of possession to the landlord as soon as the fixed term has expired, without requiring any reason or proportionality of the order.  It can prove to be more straight forward, although the requirements which must be met to secure a favourable Judgment are fairly stringent. it is essential to know what those requirements are in advance to avoid disappointment further into the possession procedure should a tenant fail to voluntary surrender the tenancy on expiry of the notice.

Pre-COVID, landlords were required to offer a minimum two months’ notice to the tenants first although the notice could not expiry during the fixed term.  Due to the introduction of the Coronavirus Act 2020, landlords must offer a minimum of four months although this tapering down as we move out of the pandemic and will move back to pre- COVID levels from 1st October 20201. For tenancies that are renewed after 1st October 2015, a landlord needs to demonstrate that they provided their tenants with an AST, a copy of the EPC, a valid has safety certificate, How to Rent Guide, and have managed the deposit in accordance with the deposit rules to qualify for successful enforcement of a Section 21 notice.

If you’re a landlord, it’s strongly advised that you retain solid evidence that all the documents were provided to the tenants. Looking for professional advice regarding evicting your tenant or recovering rent arrears? Get in touch with Residential Eviction Expert at Landlord Assist. Our team of residential eviction specialists can help you navigate through the complex and stringent tenant eviction process, and guide you to send Section 8 notice or Issue Section 21 notice in England and Wales.

Contact us at 08707 662288 or 01843 223223 to find out more information or email us at for free and reliable advice concerning tenancy or eviction.

Consult our Landlord and Tenant team to find out how we can help you.