Renters are being served eviction notices despite the government’s promise to protect people from a wave of homelessness resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
Evictions have been banned since the start of lockdown, however landlords have continued to serve Section 21 notices throughout this period, reports HuffPost UK. The notices allow landlords to evict tenants without giving any reason – a so-called “no-fault eviction”. The government has confirmed the ban on evictions will end on August 23.
Last week it published new civil procedure rules for eviction proceedings, which will require landlords to submit a “reactivation notice” setting out a tenant’s circumstances, including whether the lockdown has impacted their ability to pay rent, or whether the tenant is vulnerable. But, as it stands, any private tenants in more than eight weeks of rent arrears will still be at the mercy of automatic evictions using Ground 8 of Section 8 of the Housing Act.
Housing experts are calling on the government to change this rule, arguing that as long as it stands the new regulations do not compel landlords to do anything at all, as judges will have no legal means to protect renters from Section 21 evictions or Section 8 evictions. Although government guidance has urged landlords to ‘show compassion’, many private tenants who are struggling financially as a direct result of coronavirus are now facing eviction and possible homelessness.
One such example is small business owner Daniela and her musician partner James, of Liverpool. The couple have struggled financially during lockdown, as James’s freelance work has completely dried up with the closure of venues and cancellation of festivals. With their incomes slashed by half, Daniela and James wrote to their letting agency in early March, saying they could not pay their rent in full and hoping they could receive an agreement. Instead, they received some “completely inappropriate” “load of generic nonsense suggesting how to budget our money” and were told to contact their water, gas and electricity companies to ask for a “payment suspension”.
After racking up four months of rent arrears and receiving emails that made them feel “incredibly humiliated”, a letter arrived with a Section 21 notice attached. The couple are now facing “further debt and potential homelessness”, while Daniela’s anxiety has affected her ability to work. They also discovered their landlord has benefited from a mortgage holiday – while at the same time ignoring their pleas for leniency.
“We’re at a point where we have to choose if we’d like to pay rent or risk not being able to buy groceries,” Daniela told HuffPost UK: “I just don’t earn enough on my own to sustain both of us and pay all of our bills. This has obviously affected us mentally.”
Boris Johnson previously pledged to scrap Section 21 as part of last year’s election manifesto, but has so far failed to do so. Last week Labour warned the country faced a “homelessness emergency” unless new legislation was introduced to prevent a wave of evictions. Thangam Debbonaire, shadow housing secretary, said the government’s mortgage relief policies have “helped property developers, second home-owners and landlords make money from housing. But they are doing nothing to help thousands in rented accommodation, who may find themselves without anywhere to live later this year,” she said.
On Wednesday the housing minister suggested court action to evict tenants could be postponed if a landlord cannot demonstrate “good cause”. Speaking to MPs, Christopher Pincher said measures would be introduced to make it “very difficult” for landlords to bring applications to court in order to “support hard-pressed renters”.
Debbonaire said Johnson had “let down renters”. “Choices and delays by this government mean hundreds of thousands of people risk losing their homes in the middle of a global pandemic,” she told HuffPost UK. “The Tories promised to end unfair ‘no fault’ evictions, but needlessly delayed it until after the expected wave of evictions when the ban is lifted in August. We were promised that ‘no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home’. The Tories have let down renters, and failed all of us who want to avoid a rise in homelessness in our communities this autumn.”