Well!! What a weak it has been! I do hope all readers are well and hopefully coronavirus free. We have to keep washing our hands.
The Coronavirus Legislation
The government is rushing through new legislation to support tenants and their landlords, which is described on its own press release as ‘radical’ and is summarised there as
- Emergency legislation to suspend new evictions from social or private rented accommodation while this national emergency is taking place
- No new possession proceedings through applications to the court to start during the crisis
- Landlords will also be protected as 3-month mortgage payment holiday is extended to Buy to Let mortgages
These measures are to be taken forward ‘as an urgent priority’. However, at the time of writing, we have not seen the draft legislation so do not know the details.
Nearly legal has some telling questions:
What about existing possession claims?
Will this extend to any possession claim, including against licensees, or limited to Rent Act/ Housing Act 1985/Housing Act 1988 only?
Will the new protocol apply to rent arrears claims only? Or would it even extend to section 21 claims?
Is the new protocol going to be a lasting thing, or time limited for a ‘post crisis’ period? It sounds like it would be a good thing as a permanent protocol.
And, what about some additional funding to local authorities to fund tenancy relations officers and enforcement? It seems likely that this will lead to a rise in attempted illegal evictions.
Which he promises to look at in future posts. So keep an eye on the Nearly Legal site.
The government announcement continues by saying
At the end of this period [ie the three months], landlords and tenants will be expected to work together to establish an affordable repayment plan, taking into account tenants’ individual circumstances.
Saing that they will
issue guidance which asks landlords to show compassion and to allow tenants who are affected by this to remain in their homes wherever possible.
So we will have to wait and see what this says.
Questions asked by tenants will no doubt include:
- How can I afford to pay rent if I have lost my job
- Or are unable to work as I have to stay home – either to self isolate or to look after my children
Questions by landlords will no doubt include
- A mortgage holiday is nice but how can I afford to pay all the other expenses on my property if tenants don’t pay rent
- How can I deal with essential repair work if we can’t get into the property due to tenants self-isolating
- How can we comply with gas and other safety requirements if tenants are self-isolating, and
- Can the right to rent rule which requires a face to face meeting with all potential occupiers be relaxed during this time?
No doubt there are many others.
In a joint statement the National and Residential Landlords Associations said:
No responsible landlord will be considering evicting tenants because of difficulties arising from the current situation.
There does need to be some flexibility though, such as with dealing with a tenant engaging in anti-social behaviour. This could cause misery for fellow tenants or neighbours especially when they are going to be spending a lot of time together.
In addition, we need to do all we can to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
There should be national guidelines for local authorities to suspend routine inspections of properties and a temporary halt on enforcement action where landlords are unable to fulfil certain required obligations because of the health risk posed to them, tenants and contractors.
A Universal Income?
Many people are saying that the best way to deal with the financial crisis is to give a universal income for the duration. For example, Daniel Susskind writing in the Financial Times says it could be affordable as it would cost the government some £66 billion a month which is a fraction of the money used to control the 2008 banking crisis.
The Guardian reports cross-party calls for a Universal Income saying
Citizens Advice proposed a “crisis minimum income” of at least £180 a week so everyone has enough money “to protect their own health and the health of others”, and economists at the Resolution Foundation thinktank called for the government to pay two-thirds of wages if employees are left without work to do, at a cost of £8bn for a million workers over six months.
I note that in his address to the nation last night Boris Johnson confirmed that they would be doing more for ordinary people in this crisis (as opposed to the 2008 crisis) so we will have to see.
What is happening in the courts?
As reported on Nearly Legal courts are still working but new measures are being put in place. Worryingly one of these is the use of Skype for Business which is due to be killed by Microsoft next July!
The message from the Lord Chief Justice to Judges on possession proceedings says
It is likely that the emergency legislation will affect this area of work. But it is obvious that particular sensitivity is needed irrespective of that. Applications to suspend warrants of possession should be prioritized.
Block listing of possession claims is inappropriate at this time because it would be difficult to maintain appropriate social distancing.
Judges dealing with any possession claim during the crisis must have in mind the public health guidance and should not make an order that risks impacting on public health.
Although no new possession claims will be issued after the new legislation comes into force, this will only last 3 months. We are told that after this time the ‘pre-action protocol’ for social landlords will be widened include private renters and to strengthen its remit.
No doubt we will be writing more about this in due course.
Keeping up to date
If you want to keep with to date with coronavirus news generally, the main gov.uk information page is here.
The RLA has a very good coronavirus section on their website here
Also, I will be doing a webinar with John Stewart of the NRLA on Tuesday 24 March at 10.30 when we will be discussing all these issues. You can sign up here, and the recording will be loaded up to this site later.
- Foxtons apologises after a tenant is told they can self-isolate elsewhere
- Job losses at Belvoir with more to follow – and franchisees urged to conduct ‘aggressive’ review of costs
- London boroughs fear temporary eviction ban ‘stores up pressures’
- Government announces new Fire Safety Bill
- MHCLG confirms ‘pet’ private-rental project
Newsround will be back next week.