The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all our lives and the government has introduced emergency legislation to try and limit that impact for many of us. However, in the private rental sector, there have been a number of issues which have left landlords feeling unprotected in the current climate.
Tenants in the private rental sector, who have found themselves struggling financially as a result of the pandemic, have been offered a level of protection. No evictions have taken place since 26th March 2020 and the current stay on possession claims is now due to end on 20th September.
Current indicators are that the courts will start with hearing the most serious cases of rent arrears first, where there is over a year’s worth of rent outstanding, as well as cases involving anti-social behaviour and domestic violence. After such a period of inactivity, there is a real need to begin to clear the backlog of claims that have built up and start getting these progressed. Many landlords are now having to accept the likelihood of having to wait at least a year before their claim for possession will be concluded, particularly for those issued before the pandemic.
Whilst there are many stories of tenants who have been seriously impacted by the pandemic, it unfortunately hasn’t been plain sailing for many landlords either.
Not all landlords are big, established and wealthy corporations. Many are simply trying to make an investment work, or possibly even an inherited property. Many are now subsidising their tenants and cannot afford to do so indefinitely.
Over the past few months, we’ve spoken to several landlords who we work with who feel abandoned by government legislation at this time.
For example, one said:
“I’ve had nightmare tenants from the moment they moved in. Not paying rent on time or in full and only when they chose to. Now they’re protected by COVID-19 legislation and, for the last 7 months, have been living completely rent-free in my property and there is nothing I can do. How long will this go on for?”
This landlord’s tenants moved in to her property in mid-2019 and have paid rent as and when they have felt so inclined. Her possession claim was submitted to the court in January this year. Clearly, the tenants’ arrears were not COVID-19 related, yet she is unable to do anything about it while the current possession restriction are in place.
Another landlord we work with, also experiencing a tenant maximising on the current legislation, said:
“It certainly is difficult from the landlord’s side. Especially when one’s tenant, who hasn’t paid the rent for 4 months, tells the agent on the day before she is due to leave the property that she’s sitting in the airport waiting to go on holiday for two weeks. And because she knows she can’t be evicted, she’s playing the game and waiting for a Court Order. It looks like it will be well over 6 months before we get the property back. I expect the courts will be very busy by then, so it could be much longer.
Of course, if there was genuine need, we would have been happy to work something out with the tenant whilst she was trying to get back on her feet. But, unfortunately, this isn’t the case with our tenant.”
This indicates that some tenants may be taking advantage of the pandemic by not paying their rent while they evidentially have the funds to do so.
Another landlord said:
“It is deeply frustrating, as a landlord, that the eviction process has stalled several times and whilst I respect the government for helping tenants, their support for the private-rental sector feels very one-sided. Landlords are citizens too.
Either way, we are just hoping desperately that it will all be over soon and we can move on from having a property that is collecting no income. Not to mention, it was once our family home and the whole situation has left a cloud over our much loved property”.
We have spoken with many landlords who are more than willing to try and work with tenants who are in genuine financial difficulty, but have found a lack of cooperation from their tenant.
In order for these arrangements to succeed, compromise cannot just come from the landlord’s side with nothing offered by the tenant. Landlords cannot communicate with tenants who won’t work with them. They do not want to make tenants homeless for the sake of it but understandably cannot subsidise their tenants indefinitely.
Looking ahead, it would not be a surprise to see many private landlords leave the private rental sector once they have been able to get their property back. Many do not want to experience anything like this again so may cut their losses and sell up.
What impact would this have on the private rental sector? What will be the new government policy longer term? How will they protect both landlords and tenants as we enter our ‘new normal’? Only time will tell.
If you’re affected by any of these issues, or require advice on any other landlord and tenant matters, our team is here to support you via phone, email or video conferencing.
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