By Debbie Pennell
Having once extended emergency measures to prevent tenant evictions during the darkest days of Covid-19, the Government has come under pressure from all sides. Originally due to end on 30th June, the eviction ban was extended to 20th September. Now, the ban has been lifted and, where appropriate, landlords are able to take eviction proceedings against tenants.
The opposition party, industry, charities and Baroness Ros Altmann, a former pensions minister under David Cameron, have different and often conflicting agendas, but have all had their say on the matter.
Landlords, their representative bodies and Baroness Altmann were all concerned that if the eviction ban been extended, they, together with other restrictions imposed, would deter new entrants to the private rental sector (PRS), encourage many to leave the sector and impact others who use their buy-to-let investment as a source of income.
Their argument was that although a blanket ban on evictions would benefit those in genuine need, it had the unintended consequences of helping those difficult, anti-social, or persistently non-paying tenants who take unfair advantage of their landlords.
In addition, many landlords are dependent on their buy-to-let income for day to day living, or as part of their pension pot, potentially supporting drawdown funds. An extension of the ban would have impacted them by default, and would have caused knock-on, unplanned hardship.
Although the courts are now opening their doors to eviction cases, the backlog is predicted to be long. So, there is no quick fix.
When criticising a potential further extension to the ban, Baroness Altmann suggested a number of other measures that could help tenants in Covid affected areas who found themselves in need. These include interest-free hardship loans guaranteed by Government and paid
landlords. So far, none of these measures have been adopted. directly to landlords; additional income support for qualifying tenants; or targeted financial support for
Conversely, charity Shelter say that since the beginning of the pandemic 322,000 tenants are in arrears. They are concerned that resulting evictions will increase homelessness and propel a rise in coronavirus. Also, the end of the furlough scheme in October can only push unemployment figures upwards making matters worse. Government opposition voices have been heard in support of this sentiment.
Meanwhile, some sector experts think that in extreme circumstances, unscrupulous and potentially criminal landlords could be planning to illegally evict some tenants, reminiscent of the Rackman 1950/60s era.
In the main, landlords have welcomed the reinstatement of evictions, although for tenants who have found themselves in arrears due to reduced working hours, job losses, illness or depleted income – all at no fault of their own – are feeling let down. They had been hoping for a further deferral of the inevitable, but it seems the Government has decided the country must learn to live with Covid and that it is essential life resumes some semblance of normality.
In order to introduce fairness into this difficult situation, the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) is encouraging landlords to continue working with any tenants experiencing genuine financial hardship, and to arrive at a mutually acceptable payment plan. In short, this will benefit both parties, averting the possibility of homelessness for the tenant and voids for the landlord – not to mention the expense of eviction through court proceedings.
However, in anticipation, courts are preparing for a flood of new cases and there is talk of prioritising cases such as those with 12-months of unpaid rent or, in some cases, where the outstanding funds amount to 25% of the landlord’s income. In addition, cases of illegal occupancy, fraud, domestic violence and anti-social behaviour will also be fast tracked.
Finally, and in an attempt to avoid at least some potential disputes, Landlord Action and Property Redress Scheme together are offering a cost effective mediation service to avoid eviction proceedings. This should enable letting agents and landlords regain possession in a more timely, non-judicial manner, rather than immediately resorting to the courts.
Caxtons has advised both landlords and tenants to keep lines of communication open and, wherever possible, arrive at consensus. As a consequence, during the pandemic we have had a couple of cases where the landlord and tenant have agreed to a reduced rent, but only the rare occurrence of rent arrears.