While the five-month tenant eviction ban has helped renters that are suffering financial difficulty, it has left landlords powerless to take action against renters committing domestic abuse or making the lives of fellow tenants or neighbours a misery.
These cases must be given top priority by the courts and their processes enhanced to avoid further delay once they start to deal with possession cases next week, according to the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA).
There will be a backlog of cases when the repossessions ban ends on 23 August. Between January and March, just before the ban was put in place, there were 24,320 claims made by private and social landlords to repossess property; 8,093 claims led to a repossession order being made and 1, 336 led to a warrant being issued for repossession in England and Wales.
Chris Norris, policy director for the NRLA, said: “Extending the ban on repossessions is not necessary. Our research clearly shows that the vast majority of landlords and tenants are working together constructively to sustain tenancies wherever possible.
“We need the courts to deal with cases where tenants are committing anti-social behaviour or where there are long-standing rent arrears that have nothing to do with the pandemic.
“Over the last five months landlords have been powerless to take any action against those who cause misery for fellow tenants and neighbours.”
The past few months have proved particularly challenging for tenants and landlords.
Some 94% of landlords rent property as an individual and have unlimited liability should their businesses fail. Many rely on their rental income for their livelihood, 44% entered the market to contribute to their pension and 39% report a gross non-rental income of less than £20,000 a year.
It is vital that as the ban on repossessions is lifted, unnecessary scaremongering is avoided, and policy makers and others focus on the facts. The NRLA insists that it is simply wrong to assume that every tenant that has built rent arrears because of Covid-19 will automatically be at risk of eviction.
Independent polling for the NRLA by the research firm Dynata has found that just over 95% of private tenants are paying their rent or have made an arrangement with their landlord to pay a lower rent or defer payment during the pandemic.
Less than a third of all those with arrears - 2% of the entire survey sample - have been served with a possession notice.
When the courts start hearing claims for repossession again, a landlord with a claim already in progress will have to provide a ‘re-activation notice’ informing the court (and the tenant) in writing. If they do not, the case will remain dormant.
Where these, or a new claim, include non-payment of rent, the landlord has to set out what knowledge they have about the tenant’s circumstances including the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on them and their dependants.
If this information is not forthcoming or is deemed inadequate by the courts, the judges will have powers to adjourn the case.
Until 30th September, landlords renting property in England have to give tenants a minimum of three months’ notice of their intention to seek possession giving more time for payment arrangements to be agreed. In Wales it is six months for all cases except those related to anti-social behaviour.
The NRLA believes that to support the above the government should develop a financial package, as has happened in Wales, to support tenants to pay off rent arrears built as a result of COVID-19.