At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic the Government introduced what became known as the evictions ban. The idea being that no tenant would find themselves homeless during the worst of the Coronavirus crisis.
Recently however these arrangements have been extended. That poses more of a problem for landlords, and also letting agents, which neither have had to consider before. In this post we will look more closely at what the so-called evictions ban involves and offer some pointers on how to handle it.
First let’s recap on what the evictions ban actually is:
Back in March, as part of emergency measures introduced to tackle Covid-19, the Government extended the statutory notice period landlords in England must give tenants before initiating court proceedings for evictions to three months. This was later extended, firstly so that so that notice could not be given until late August, and then again until 20 September. In practice the evictions ban isn’t a ban on evictions as such but a freeze on the commencement of proceedings.
In August the Government also introduced a new six month notice period requirement. It has said this will stay in place until March 2021 at least. Full details here.
Clearly these arrangements could become a serious problems for some landlords, especially those with tenants they might now have a pressing need to evict.
So what might be the best ways for landlords and letting agents to approach this new situation?
Firstly, keep in touch with your tenants. This has always been good practice for landlords and agents and applies more than ever as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Be alert to any changes in their circumstances, and let them know they can contact you if they have any issues.
The Government have reported that 87% of tenants have paid their rent as normal – with 8% agreeing reduced rents. However the furlough scheme eventually ends at the end of October. Tenants who are still on furlough and aren’t taken back by their employers could face problems paying their rent from October onwards.
Offer to help if your circumstances allow. Again this was a good approach during lockdown and still applies going forward. Landlords might consider agreeing a rent repayment plan, or even a rent reduction, with tenants who have financial difficulties. Part of the rent, or all the rent but paid over a longer period, isn’t ideal but is better than no rent at all.
Direct tenants to any sources of financial help and advice that might be available to them.
Here’s a useful blog post giving advice about Dealing With Tenants During The Coronavirus Crisis.
Know when you can still evict if you need to. The new six month notice period has some important exclusions. A shorter notice period of between 2-4 weeks may apply when a landlord needs to evict for anti social behaviour, domestic abuse, when the tenant has made a false statement, or where there are serious rent arrears (over six months). A three month notice period applies if there has been a breach of right to rent rules.
In addition, once eviction hearings restart, the courts have been requested to prioritise the most serious cases. Landlords will also need to provide information to the court about how Covid-19 has affected the tenant’s circumstances.
More information about these shorter notice periods here.
Landlords who have serious difficulties with tenants and find themselves needing to evict would be well advised to take advice from a specialist lawyer or evictions specialist on the current situation.
Take suitable precautions when choosing new tenants. It’s important to remember that the lettings business is continuing as normal in many ways. Some existing tenants will be coming to the end of their tenancies and moving on just as they always did. First time tenants will be entering the rental market too. In addition to this, those tenants who are evicted are likely to be looking for new homes to rent.
Remember that these tenants could be in a very different personal and financial situation to tenants in the past. Landlords and agents will want to take particular care with issues like references, and perhaps consider the use of guarantors or landlord insurance where appropriate.
Monitor the situation carefully. It’s always possible there could be more Government help for tenants or even landlords over the coming months. For example, Scotland has already introduced a landlord loan scheme and a tenant hardship loan fund.
There’s also the chance that the evictions ban could be extended, the six month notice period be made more permanent, or other changes to landlord and tenant law could be made under the umbrella of a Covid-19 measure. A Renter’s Reform Bill is already in the pipeline.
Whatever happens, landlords and letting agents are likely to find themselves in a very new and possibly fast changing situation over the next few months. The best advice is to keep informed and keep on top of what’s going on.
Lastly note that the measures outlined here apply to England. There are similar but different measures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.