Your tenant is in rental arrears – can you change the locks?

To take possession from a nightmare tenant, you must follow the law.

Every now and then we need to serve a Section 21 Notice on a tenant to gain vacant possession of a landlord’s property. It’s not often, but with more than 1,200 properties under management nationwide it does happen occasionally.

We were recently asked by one of our landlord clients to change the locks on a property where a Section 21 Notice had been served and the tenants stopped paying the rent and refused to move. We had to refuse the request. In this article we explain why, and we also provide the advice that we gave the landlord.

What is a Section 21 Notice?

A Section 21 Notice is the easiest way to get vacant possession of your property when it’s inhabited by a nightmare tenant. However, it can only be put into effect after the fixed-term tenancy has ended. You can serve the notice within the fixed term, but the leave date must be after the end of the fixed term. The ‘notice to leave’ period under a Section 21 Notice is two months.

“Change the locks!”

The tenant of our landlord client had fallen into arrears with their rent – unfortunately the tenant had lost her job and, consequently, couldn’t afford the rent. We served a Section 21 Notice requiring the tenant to leave the property shortly after the end of the fixed term.

With the rent remaining unpaid, the tenant refused to leave the property.

When discussing the situation with the landlord, the landlord demanded that we change the locks. “It’s my property,” he said. “We’ve told the tenant to get out, and she’s playing hard ball. Well, I know my rights! Get in there and change the locks – and don’t allow the tenant back in except to remove her property.”

We had to decline. We just couldn’t do it. If we had, we’d have broken the law.

A Section 21 Notice doesn’t give you the right to evict

A Section 21 Notice is a request for the tenant to leave the property. It’s not an eviction order. Usually, the tenant served a Section 21 Notice will play nicely and leave. After all, you have given them two months’ notice. It’s not like you are making them destitute and homeless at the click of your fingers.

Occasionally, as in this case, a nightmare tenant will refuse to leave, despite the Section 21 Notice. Now you must follow the letter of the law. If you don’t, you will be in big trouble. Changing the locks would be breach the Housing Act 1988 – the law that controls regaining possession under assured tenancies and assured shorthold tenancies.

If your tenant refuses to leave after a Section 21 Notice has been served, the next step is to apply to the court for an order to evict. Having listened to our advice, the landlord in this case did exactly what we suggested. The tenant knew she was beaten, and so left the property without the need to be physically removed. The landlord was able to keep the tenant’s deposit to cover the unpaid rent.

When a buy-to-let landlord works with Ezytrac, they can be confident that they are supported by a group with qualified and experienced employees. We make sure that should the unthinkable happen, you won’t break the law and end up in a situation out of your control.

Isn’t it time you contact us on +44 0 1522 503 717  discover the benefits of effortless property management?

Live with passion,

Brett Alegre-Wood

About the Author:

Brett has over 20 years experience in all facets of property, he owns various companies centred around property and is the driving force behind the education and training at Ezytrac. His companies have sold over £850 million in UK and London property and he manages over 1200 properties through his estate agency chain. Today he shares his time between UK, Australia and Singapore. He is married to Arlene and together they have 4 kids. Brett holds both the Level 3 Property Mark Qualifications for Property Sales and Property Lettings and Management.