After concerns were raised that hundreds of thousands could lose their homes, Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick has extended the ban on landlords seeking to evict tenants in England and Wales by a further four weeks until 20th September. It was also announced that until the end of March, landlords will be required to give tenants six months’ notice if they wish to evict them.
The latest emergency legislation is intended to ensure that those renting property continue to have certainty and security during the Covid-19 pandemic. It will also protect those who may have been made redundant or were shielding against the ongoing effects of the Coronavirus outbreak and the possibility of a second wave as we move towards winter.
What does the extension mean for tenants?
The move has largely been welcomed. A survey by homelessness charity, Shelter, suggested that more than 170,000 private tenants have been threatened with eviction, and 230,000 in England have fallen into arrears since the pandemic started. While health bodies have warned that homelessness or moves could risk higher numbers of Covid-19 infections.
There is positive news. According to a recent poll by the NRLA, the vast majority of landlords and tenants have worked constructively to sustain tenancies, with more than 95% of tenants making full payments or setting up agreements, and just 3% of landlords reporting tenants with arrears who are unwilling or unable to resolve the issue.
What does the extension mean for landlords and agents?
On the other side of the debate, groups representing landlords have described the blanket extension as unacceptable. They express frustration, saying that landlords are being held hostage by problem tenants and have been left powerless in exercising their legal right to deal with significant arrears unrelated to Covid-19, such as antisocial behaviour and extremely disruptive tenants.
As a result, landlords in England and Wales can now only ask a tenant to leave during the fixed term if they have certain grounds to do so, including using the property for illegal purposes or seriously damaging the property. While in the short-term the situation is frustrating, it is sustainable. In the longer-term landlords and property agents are warning that it is nothing more than a sticking plaster and that it is only delaying the inevitable.
Eviction cases to be a priority when courts reopen.
The Government has assured landlords that when the courts reopen on the 20th September, eviction hearings relating to antisocial or criminal behaviour or extreme rent arrears, will be given priority. Until then, it has made mortgage holidays available until the end of October, although this may be extended. Alternatively, it advises landlords to investigate other avenues such as injunctions for antisocial behaviour issues.
At the end of the eviction ban there is likely to be a flurry of both existing claims being reactivated and new possession claims being issued. Despite the Government’s assurances, the fear is that these claims won’t be heard for many months or even years because the courts will be at maximum capacity. Some landlords could even be forced to sell their houses or face repossession by their lender.
So, that’s the story of the next few months - good or bad, depending on which side of the fence you sit on. One thing is certain, with Covid-19 set to hang around for a while yet, nothing is going to be set in stone for a long time to come and so both sides will have to find a positive and proactive way to work together.