Can I Evict A Tenant If I Want To Sell The House?
For landlords looking to sell a tenanted buy-to-let property in the UK, a key question arises around managing the tenant while achieving a successful sale. Some landlords consider serving tenants an eviction notice if they plan to put the property on the market. However, evicting sitting tenants simply to enable sale rarely proves necessary or ethical. This article explores landlords’ legal rights and key considerations around handling tenanted property sales to determine if pre-emptively evicting tenants to sell makes sense as a strategy in different situations.
The Issues Around Tenanted Property Sales
Selling an occupied rental property throws up challenges familiar to most buy-to-let investors at some point. With tenants in situ, landlords lose control over property viewings and preparation. Achieving vacant possession usually allows for better sales values, faster completions and wider buyer pools. Securing mortgages also gets trickier for buyers purchasing tenanted homes.
These issues mean some landlords consider serving Section 21 ‘no fault’ eviction notices to get properties empty pre-sale. However, evicting good-paying tenants purely to profit more from a sale remains contentious in many circumstances. We’ll analyse this in detail shortly.
First, let’s recap how the sales process normally works with UK tenancy agreements and what rights landlords and tenants each hold.
Normal Tenanted Sales Process And Legal Rights
For assured shorthold tenancy agreements up to three years, landlords retain the right to repossess their property at the end of the fixed term, needing no specific reason by serving a valid Section 21 notice giving two months notice once the term expires. However, the tenant has a legal right to remain in occupation during both the initial fixed term and any rolling statutory period immediately after. During these periods, evicting tenants purely to sell would likely breach contract terms.
Landlords also hold specific obligations around tenanted property sales under the Tenant Fees Act 2019. Once placing a rented home on the market, landlords must provide an official ‘notice of intention to sell’. After agents start viewings, tenants then have various rights like at least 48 hours’ notice for arranged viewings and limitations on how many viewings to minimise inconvenience. Landlords cannot evict them simply for refusing viewings when ample notice isn’t provided.
In most standard tenanted sales, landlords generally market properties, conduct viewings according to tenants’ availability and contractual rights, go under offer with the buyer fully aware of the tenant’s situation, and then complete sales with the tenant remaining in situ. Only after the fixed term expires would a landlord serve notice if wanting vacant possession before the new owner moves in.
When Does Eviction Before Sale Potentially Become Reasonable?
While evicting during a tenancy term purely for financial gain remains morally and contractually unjustified, there are select situations where asking tenants to vacate before selling may become understandable or reasonably necessary from a landlord’s perspective:
- Serving Full Section 21 Notice Near End of Fixed Term
- Tenants Vindictively Damaging Property Saleability
- Complete Communication Breakdown With the Tenant
- Onerous Restrictions Placed on Viewings
- Sale Falls Through Due to Tenant Unreasonable Actions
Let’s explore in detail what could motivate landlords to take the otherwise drastic and controversial step of serving notice to evict tenants before selling in these specific scenarios:
Serving Full Section 21 Notice Near End of Fixed Term
If a fixed tenancy term alignment means serving the full 2 months’ Section 21 notice nicely coincides with the expiration date anyway, either so selling marketed with ‘vacant possession’ looks easier or allows buyers a short window to do renovations before moving in themselves, this may be considered more reasonable. If handled sensitively and new rental options are presented for tenants, serving notice can be morally (if not legally) justified. But if misaligned with term dates, still best delayed until tenancy expires.
Tenants Vindictively Damaging Property Saleability
In exceptionally rare cases, tenants make deliberate attempts to scare off viewers by making outrageously false claims about property issues, creating unrealistic expectations of their rights to remain after completion, or threatening prospective buyers in clear attempts of malicious obstruction of the sales process. If it can be firmly evidenced that such damaging tenant behaviour directly caused multiple sales to fall through and sufficient formal warnings have already been given, a landlord could have reasonable justification to serve truncated notice to resolve such an impossibly obstructed situation by finally removing the tenant barrier to all sales.
Complete Communication Breakdown With the Tenant
A landlord may position any request to vacate before sale completion more reasonably if there has already been a major irreconcilable communication breakdown with the tenant whereeven reasonable interactions regarding the sales process prove impossible. If a tenant point-blank refuses to acknowledge a landlord’s basic rights to sell the property at all, ignores lawful procedures around viewings, or has threatened legal action against landlord shortcomings that never actually occurred, communication may become untenable. While still an undesirably hostile scenario, if all chances of constructive dialogue are exhausted, both parties agreeing to terminate the relationship sooner could be reasonable for everyone.
Onerous Restrictions Placed on Viewings
Most tenant restrictions around viewing timings remain perfectly reasonable. But in certain situations, greatly overbearing conditions solely intended to hinder saleability could enable landlords to justifiably ask tenants to leave once the tenancy expires. This would include completely unreasonable restrictions like imposing unworkable Monday-Friday afternoon-only viewing slots on a property targeting families requiring weekend viewings or stubbornly refusing access during an 8-week completion period between exchange and completion thus forcing sales to collapse. Imposing such overtly obstructive viewing limitations against reasonable requests could be grounds for a landlord to then reciprocate in giving notice themselves.
Sale Falls Through Due to Tenant Unreasonable Actions
The ultimate scenario giving landlords potential justification to request the tenant vacate to allow a smooth future sale is where a prior sale has already fallen through solely due to evidenced unreasonable tenant actions. Any of the damaging behaviours above could individually collapse each potential sale, but having this happen multiple times may start looking deliberate. Or a tenant may cause sales to collapse by bluntly refusing access to vital surveys. If a buyer pulls out citing reasonable landlord requests being rejected by an awkward tenant, this unfairly costs the landlord huge wasted time, legal fees and future sales value from ongoing market uncertainty. Facing such provable direct costs from tenants’ unwillingness to compromise could enable serving justified notice.
When Making Tenants Aware Of Plans To Sell – Handle Sensitively!
If needing tenants to vacate eventually to enable sales plans or prevent sales falling through does look justified as per the specific scenarios above only, landlords must still follow formal procedures and handle sensitively from day one:
- Inform Tenants of the Intention to Sell Early But Reassure Them
- Explain Sales Issues Directly But Maintain Mutual Respect
- Emphasise Wish to Avoid Disruption or Inconvenience
- Provide Support to Find Their Next Rental Property
- Offer Fair Incentives to Leave Early If Needed
- Reassure of Full Reference Provision Post-Tenancy
By giving tenants early informal warning that sales plans on the horizon may eventually require them to leave, but providing full reassurances around protecting their contractual rights in the meantime and supporting their transition to suitable alternative rentals when the time finally comes, landlords have their best chances of avoiding relationship breakdowns while still realising their legitimate need to sell the property at an appropriate time. This constructive, collaborative approach aligned with formal procedures can allow both landlord and tenant needs to be met.
Handling Existing Tenants During Sales – Conclusion
In most typical standard tenancy situations where no serious prior tenant issues already exist, serving eviction requests purely to get vacant possession to hopefully achieve a higher sales value or quicker sale remains highly questionable legally, ethically and morally. Far preferable steps for landlords selling tenanted properties include:
- Inform tenants promptly when properties are listed for sale
- Adhere fully to tenants’ lawful viewing rights
- Make buyers aware of tenancy specifics
- Complete sales process with tenant in place
- Serve notice only once tenancy expires (if required)
The rare cases where asking tenants to leave before sale completion becomes potentially reasonable due to unworkable communication breakdowns or tenants directly obstructing sales themselves should still only be handled formally and sensitively as an absolute last resort once multiple attempts at constructive dialogue fail and after tenants’ contractual fixed term expires.
But when such rare nightmare scenarios sadly do arise despite best efforts, landlords could have arguable justification to serve legal Section 21 eviction notices at the appropriate time to remove seemingly intentional barriers tenants have inflicted on legitimate sale plans. But communications still need to be handled carefully throughout disputes.