A positive step forward for landlords, as from today, possession cases with severe rent arrears will be exempt from the ban on evictions, meaning bailiffs and High Court Enforcement Officers can move to enforce warrants and complete evictions.
However, this will only apply to cases where the equivalent of nine months’ rent arrears had accrued prior to the 23 March 2020, when the country went into national lockdown.
Paul Shamplina, founder of landlord and tenant solicitors’ firm, Landlord Action, comments: “This is very welcome news for those landlords whose tenants had stopped paying rent months prior to the pandemic and, until now, had been given carte blanche to continue living rent-free.
“However, there are concerns about how long it will take those landlords, whose arrears cases fall short of the Government’s definition of “substantial” i.e. nine months, to regain possession.”
Landlord Action is currently acting on behalf of dozens of landlords who have severe pre-Covid possession cases and who have been powerless to act over the last eight months. Vanessa Thorn is a landlord whose tenant has not paid rent since November 2018. She instructed Landlord Action’s help, and after a long battle to get to bailiff stage, a date was finally set down for April 2020, only to be cancelled as a result of court closures during lockdown. She is now out of pocket by £25,000 in rent plus her legal fees.
Vanessa explains: “The case has been mentally exhausting. It took until the end of 2019 to get a court order for repossession because the tenant filed a defence of disrepair. We then had to go through the whole process of proving otherwise and then wait a further four months to get a bailiff date, only to have it cancelled.
“It has now been another eight months, and all the while my tenant, who is a business owner in Camden, is living rent-free. If we cannot rely on the UK courts to uphold the simple contract signed by the tenant, to pay rent within a reasonable period of time, how can we be expected to operate as landlords in this country?
“Even before Covid, it took too long to gain possession. Landlords do not need any more disincentives. It is the good, honest tenants that will suffer as it means landlords will be far more cautious of who they let to, putting, for example, self-employed people, at greater risk of being overlooked. As a landlord, I would always show compassion and help a tenant if I could, but I simply cannot afford to pay rent for someone else for two years.”
The eviction ban started in March and ended in September, only to be reinstated in areas classified as Covid risk Tier 2 or Tier 3. On 5 November, the Government said renters would be protected during the second national restrictions (5 November – 2 December), with no bailiff enforcement action, except for the most egregious cases such as anti-social behaviour. The statement also said that an exemption would be introduced for extreme pre-Covid rent arrears cases, which has been announced today.
Paul adds: “Put simply, landlords are not banks or the welfare state. In fact, banks get their money back, but landlords are expected to swallow these losses.
“How is it fair that a landlord should be covering the rent for someone who was already failing to pay rent long before the pandemic started? What’s more, the likelihood of Ms Thorn, or other landlords in a similar situation to her, being able to collect monies owed is very slim.
“Whilst this is a positive step forward, there is a long way to go in clearing the backlog of cases and my concern now is for those landlords who have cases with, for example, seven months of rent arrears prior to March.
He concludes: “With the current lockdown and then the Christmas amnesty, evictions will not be enforced by bailiffs until 11 January 2021 at the very earliest, so even in the best-case scenario, those landlords will be facing more than 17 months without rent.”