Section 21 notices for assured shorthold tenancies

A landlord can serve Section 21 notice in prescribed form to end an assured shorthold tenancy (AST) without proving any ground for possession.

This content applies to England

Requirement for a notice to commence possession proceedings

To regain possession of a property let under an AST without having a specific reason or ground for possession (such as rent arrears), a landlord must first serve a valid section 21 notice on the tenant.

Section 21 notice periods

The standard minimum period of a section 21 notice is two months.

Notices for some contractual periodic assured shorthold tenants might need to be longer.

Notice periods were temporarily extended between 25 March 2020 and 1 October 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Two months' notice for fixed term & statutory periodic ASTs

A section 21(1)(b) notice must give the tenant at least two months' notice that the landlord requires possession of the property. Any date can be given for the expiry of the notice as long as it meets that requirement. 

A landlord can use this notice to end the following types of AST whenever they began:[1]

  • fixed-term

  • statutory periodic

Where the agreement is fixed term and contains no break clause, it is unclear whether a notice served during the fixed term and where the two-month notice period expires before the end of the fixed term is valid. It may be argued that such a notice is premature and misleading.

A landlord cannot commence possession proceedings until the notice period has expired and, if appropriate, the fixed-term of a tenancy has ended (unless there is a break clause).

Notice period for contractual periodic ASTs

If the tenancy is a contractual periodic AST from the start, the section 21 notice must:[2]

  • be of a period of at least two months, or equal to the length of the period of the tenancy, whichever is longer

  • state that possession is required under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 (for tenancies beginning on or after 1 October 2015 the prescribed form containing this information must be used).

Where the contractual period of the tenancy is longer than two months, the section 21 notice period must be for at least a full period of the tenancy. It may specify any date on or after the earliest day a notice to quit could take effect. For example if the contractual period is quarterly or six monthly the length of the notice must be a full period of the tenancy (or six months in the case of yearly tenancies).[3]

It is also likely that the notice requirements above apply when a fixed-term AST has expired and the tenancy agreement provided for the tenancy to continue as a contractual periodic AST (for example, the agreement stated that the AST was for a term of 12 months and thereafter from month to month').

A landlord cannot commence possession proceedings until the relevant notice period has expired.

Contractual periodic ASTs granted before 1 October 2015

For contractual periodic ASTs granted before 1 October 2015 it was also a requirement that the section 21 notice specify a date which is the last day of a period of the tenancy, after which possession is required. This requirement ceased to apply on 1 October 2018.[4]

Establishing the last day of a period of a tenancy is not always straightforward.[5] The day on which rent is paid may be, and often is, indicative of the start day of a period of the tenancy, but not always. In some cases, although the periodic tenancy began on the first of the month, in practice the rent could be paid on a different day of the month. This would not affect the start/end of the periods of the tenancy; it is simply an accounting matter.[6]

A landlord could choose to use a savings clause. A section 21 notice containing such a clause can be valid.[7] There had been some doubt about the situation where a notice contains both a savings clause and an incorrect date, but the courts have accepted notices that gave two possible dates for termination as valid providing it allows the tenant to ascertain the appropriate date.[8]

Temporary extension of notice period due to COVID-19

Assured shorthold tenants including tenants of housing associations with starter tenancies were entitled to longer section 21 notices between 26 March 2020 and 30 September 2021.[9]

There were no exceptions to the minimum time requirements for section 21 notices.

The relevant period specified in the Coronavirus Act during which landlords can be required to serve a longer notice has been extended to 25 March 2022.[10] This means the government can choose to reintroduce longer notice periods at any time before that date.

Notices served between 1 June 2021 and 30 September 2021

Between 1 June 2021 and 30 September 2021 the minimum length of a section 21 notice was four months.[11]

The landlord had eight months from the service of the notice to start possession proceedings.[12]

Notices served between 29 August 2020 and 1 June 2021

For notices served between 29 August 2020 and 31 May 2021 the minimum section 21 notice period was six months.[13]

The landlord had ten months from the service of the notice to start possession proceedings.[14]

Notices served between 26 March 2020 and 28 August 2020

For section 21 notices served between 26 March 2020 and 28 August 2020 the minimum notice period was three months.[15]

The landlord had six months from the service of the notices to start possession proceedings.

Time limits for starting court action

The following time limits applied to section 21 notices given:

  • before 29 August 2020

  • on or after 1 October 2021

AST granted or renewed on or after 1 October 2015

For a section 21 notice to remain valid, possession proceedings must be commenced within:[16]

  • six months of its service on the tenant, or

  • four months of the expiry date of the section 21 notices for periodic ASTs where the period of the tenancy is greater than two months, for example, a quarterly periodic tenancy

AST granted before 1 October 2015 (and not renewed since)

For a section 21 notice served on or after 1 October 2018 to remain valid, the same prescribed time limits as for ASTs granted on or after 1 October 2015 (as set out above) apply.[17]

For a section 21 notice served before 1 October 2018, it is not clear if the prescribed time limits will apply where possession proceedings are commenced on or after 1 October 2018. It is arguable that, if proceedings are commenced more than six months after service, the section 21 notice will be invalid.[18]

For possession proceedings commenced before 1 October 2018 there was no time limit for commencement after service of the section 21 notice.

Table: section 21 notice periods and time limits

Date notice servedMinimum notice periodTime limit to start court action
On or after 1 October 2021two monthssix months from service of the notice
Between 1 June 2021 and 30 September 2021four monthseight months from service of the notice
Between 29 August 2020 and 31 May 2021six monthsten months from service of the notice
Between 26 March 2020 and 28 August 2020three monthssix months from service of the notice
Before 26 March 2020two monthssix months from service of the notice

Form of section 21 notice

A section 21 notice must be in the prescribed form (or in a form substantially to the same effect) if it relates to a tenancy beginning on or after 1 October 2015.[19]

The prescribed form is form 6A. It was updated on 1 October 2021.[20]

A version of the form can be found on Gov.uk.

Between 1 June 2021 and 30 September 2021 the minimum length of a section 21 notice was four months. Form 6A was updated to reflect this change.[21]

Between 2 September 2020 and 31 May 2021, landlords had to use the updated form 6A which at the time reflected the six-month minimum notice period and the ten-month time limit for taking court action.[22]

Tenancies beginning before 1 October 2015

Before 1 October 2015, there was no requirement that notice was given in a prescribed form (although it had to be in writing).[23] For ASTs granted before that date (and which have not been renewed since):

  • where the section 21 notice was served before 1 October 2018, it will have been valid and a landlord will be able to rely on such a notice in applying for a possession hearing on or after 1 October 2018 (but note the time limit on making an application, below)

  • it is likely that section 21 notices served on or after 1 October 2018 are valid even if not served on the prescribed form[24]

Service of the notice

The section 21 notice must be served by the landlord (or an agent acting on their behalf). A notice served on a subtenant (who was an assured shorthold tenancy) by a head landlord before the mesne tenancy ended was held to be invalid.[25]

A landlord is not required to serve a section 21 notice in any particular way. In the event the tenant does not acknowledge service, a landlord must prove that the notice was served.

Section 196 of the Law of Property Act 1925 allows for valid service of the notice to be made by registered post or recorded delivery, or personal delivery to the tenant's property, but only when the tenancy agreement explicitly states that service will be effective where it is done in accordance with section 196. Alternatively, service can be made by other methods specified in the tenancy agreement.[26]

Timing of service

A section 21 notice served by the landlord within the initial four months' period of the original tenancy is invalid. It does not matter when the tenancy began.[27]

Fixed term less than four months

A tenancy might have an initial fixed term of less than four months. If this is the case, there are some restrictions on serving a section 21 notice if the tenancy began on or after 1 October 2015.[28]

If the tenancy has been renewed following the fixed term, (a new fixed term or contractual periodic), the landlord only has to wait four months from the date on which the original tenancy began to serve a section 21 notice. If the new tenancy is statutory periodic the restriction on serving a section 21 notice within four months does not apply.

Restrictions on use of section 21

There are a number of situations where a landlord cannot use the section 21 procedure if they wish to regain possession of an AST. 

Rent repayment after expiry of section 21 notice

Where an assured shorthold tenancy is brought to an end by service of section 21 notice before the end of a period and the tenant has paid rent in advance for that period, they are entitled to a rent repayment for the amount of the period in which they were not in occupation.

Notice of non-renewal for fixed term tenants of social landlords

In addition to the requirement of serving a valid section 21 notice before issuing possession proceedings, a landlord who is a private registered provider of social housing (PRPSH) must give certain assured shorthold tenants a notice of non-renewal. 

This only applies to ASTs which were granted:[29]

  • on or after 1 April 2012, and

  • for a fixed-term of minimum two years

If the tenancy agreement contains a valid break clause and the PRPHS landlord relies on it to terminate the tenancy during the fixed-term period as validly allowed by the agreement, the additional requirement to serve a notice of non-renewal before issuing possession proceedings does not apply. This is because the Court of Appeal held that the word 'expiry' in section 21(1B) of the Housing Act 1988 should be interpreted purposely and restrictively as to mean ‘expiry by the effluxion of time only’ in this context. The requirement on a PRPSH to give six months’ notice of non-renewal therefore would only apply where the fixed-term tenancy was brought to an end by the natural effluxion of time; not when ended as a result of activation of a valid contractual break clause.[30]

If there is no break clause, during the fixed term the landlord must serve the notice of non-renewal and wait until the termination of the fixed term before issuing possession proceedings under a section 21 notice.

A notice of non-renewal must:[31]

  • be in writing

  • be of a period of at least six months

  • state that the landlord does not intend to grant a further tenancy

  • inform the tenant how to obtain help or advice on the notice

A tenant has no statutory right of review of the landlord's decision not to renew the tenancy. However, it may be possible to challenge the service of section 21 on public law or human rights grounds.

If possession proceedings are not started within a prescribed time limit the landlord must serve a fresh section 21 notice.

Last updated: 1 October 2021

Footnotes

  • [1]

    s.21(1) Housing Act 1988; Spencer v Taylor [2013] EWCA Civ 1600.

  • [2]

    s.21(4) Housing Act 1988.

  • [3]

    s.21(4)(b) Housing Act 1988; Parker d.Walker v Constable (1769) 3 Wils. K.B. 25.

  • [4]

    s.21(4)(a) Housing Act 1988 and s.21(4ZA) Housing Act 1988 as inserted by s.35 Deregulation Act 2015.

  • [5]

    for example, see Salford CC v Garner [2004] EWCA Civ 364.

  • [6]

    Sidebotham v Holland [1895] 1 QB 378.

  • [7]

    Lower Street Properties Ltd v Jones (1996) 28 HLR 877; Notting Hill Housing Trust v Roomus [2006] EWCA Civ 407; Taylor v Spencer [2013] EWCA Civ 1600.

  • [8]

    Spencer v Taylor [2013] EWCA Civ 1600; Hussain v (1) Bradford Community Housing Ltd (2) Kauser [2009] EWCA Civ 763.

  • [9]

    para 7 Sch 29 Coronavirus Act 2020, suspended by reg 2 The Coronavirus Act 2020 (Residential Tenancies and Notices) (Amendment and Suspension) (England) Regulations 2021 SI 2021/994.

  • [10]

    see para (1)(b)(i)(1) Schedule 29 the Coronavirus Act 2020, as amended by reg 2 The Coronavirus Act 2020 (Residential Tenancies and Notices) (Amendment and Suspension) (England) Regulations 2021 SI 2021/994.

  • [11]

    para 7 Sch 29 Coronavirus Act 2020, as amended by reg 3(7) The Coronavirus Act 2020 (Residential Tenancies: Protection from Eviction) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020 SI 2020/914 and reg 2(8)(a)-(b) The Coronavirus Act 2020 (Residential Tenancies: Protection from Eviction) (Amendment) (England) (No. 2) Regulations 2021 SI 2021/564; reg 3 The Coronavirus Act 2020 (Residential Tenancies: Protection from Eviction) (Amendment) (England) (No. 2) Regulations 2021 SI 2021/564.

  • [12]

    see reg 2(8)(c) The Coronavirus Act 2020 (Residential Tenancies: Protection from Eviction) (Amendment) (England) (No. 2) Regulations 2021 SI 2021/564.

  • [13]

    para 7 Sch 29 Coronavirus Act 2020, as amended by reg 3(7) The Coronavirus Act 2020 (Residential Tenancies: Protection from Eviction) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020 SI 2020/914.

  • [14]

    para 7 Sch 29 Coronavirus Act 2020, as amended by reg 3(7) The Coronavirus Act 2020 (Residential Tenancies: Protection from Eviction) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020 SI 2020/914; reg 4(1) The Coronavirus Act 2020 (Residential Tenancies: Protection from Eviction) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020 SI 2020/914.

  • [15]

    see Sch 29 Coronavirus Act 2020 before 29 August 2020.

  • [16]

    s.21(4D)-(4E) Housing Act 1988, as inserted by s.36 Deregulation Act 2015; Deregulation Act 2015 (Commencement No. 1 and Transitional and Saving Provisions) Order 2015 SI 2015/994; s41(3) Deregulation Act 2015.

  • [17]

    s.21(4D)-(4E) Housing Act 1988, as inserted by s.36 Deregulation Act 2015; s.41(3) Deregulation Act 2015.

  • [18]

    Majiyagbe v Singh and Sandhu, County Court at Central London (30 August 2019), as reported in Housing Recent Developments of LAG Magazine, September 2019.

  • [19]

    s.21(8) Housing Act 1988, as inserted by 37(8) Deregulation Act 2015; reg 3(fa) Assured Tenancies and Agricultural Occupancies (Forms)(England) Regulations 2015 SI 2015/620 as inserted by reg 4 Assured Shorthold Tenancy Notices and Prescribed Requirements (England) Regulations 2015 SI 2015/1646 and amended by reg 2 Assured Shorthold Tenancy Notices and Prescribed Requirements (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 SI 2015/1725 and Assured Tenancies and Agricultural Occupancies (Forms) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2019 SI 2019/915; s41(3) Deregulation Act 2015.

  • [20]

    sch. 2 The Coronavirus Act 2020 (Residential Tenancies and Notices) (Amendment and Suspension) (England) Regulations 2021 SI 2021/994.

  • [21]

    see Assured Tenancies and Agricultural Occupancies (Forms) (England) Regulations 2015/620 as amended by reg 3 The Assured Tenancies and Agricultural Occupancies (Forms) (England) (Amendment) and Suspension (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 SI 2020/924.

  • [22]

    see Assured Tenancies and Agricultural Occupancies (Forms) (England) Regulations 2015/620 as amended by reg 3 The Assured Tenancies and Agricultural Occupancies (Forms) (England) (Amendment) and Suspension (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 SI 2020/924.

  • [23]

    s.21 Housing Act 1988.

  • [24]

    s.21(8) Housing Act 1988, as inserted by 37(8) Deregulation Act 2015; reg 1(3) and reg 1(4) Assured Shorthold Tenancy Notices and Prescribed Requirements (England) Regulations 2015 SI 2015/1646.

  • [25]

    s.21(1)(b) and (4)(a) Housing Act 1988; (1) Barrow & (2) Amey v Kazim & Ors [2018] EWCA Civ 2414.

  • [26]

    s.196 Law of Property Act 1925, as amended by the Recorded Delivery Service Act 1962; Wandsworth LBC v Attwell (1995) 27 HLR 536, CA; Blunden v Frogmore Investments [2002] EWCA Civ 573.

  • [27]

    s.21(4B) Housing Act 1988 as inserted by s.36(2) Deregulation Act 2015; Deregulation Act 2015 (Commencement No. 1 and Transitional and Saving Provisions) Order 2015 SI 2015/994.

  • [28]

    s.21(7) Housing Act 1988 as inserted by s.99 Housing Act 1996 and amended by s.36(3) Deregulation Act 2015; s.21(4C) Housing Act 1988 as inserted by s.36(3) Deregulation Act 2015; s.21(4B)(b) Housing Act 1988 as inserted by s.36(2) Deregulation Act 2015; Deregulation Act 2015 (Commencement No. 1 and Transitional and Saving Provisions) Order 2015 SI 2015/994.

  • [29]

    s.21(1A) Housing Act 1988, as inserted by s.164 Localism Act 2011.

  • [30]

    Livewest Homes Ltd v Bamber [2019] EWCA Civ 1174.

  • [31]

    s.21(1B) Housing Act 1988 as inserted by s.164 Localism Act 2011.