Here is your news on a Friday at the start of Lockdown #2.
It looks as if the courts are continuing to process eviction claims during the lockdown, but even if those landlords obtain an order there is little chance of obtaining a bailiffs appointment.
This is because the Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland QC, has written to the High Court Enforcement Officers Association (and one assumes the county court bailiffs) asking them to refrain from entering residential premises
I would also request that during this time, your members do not attend residential properties in England for the purpose of enforcing a writ of possession or restitution, including serving notice of enforcement …
Going on to say
except in the following limited circumstances: illegal trespass or squatting by persons unknown, nuisance or antisocial behaviour, domestic abuse, fraud or deception and properties unoccupied following the death of the defendant …
If you want to read the whole letter it is published on the Nearly Legal website.
Nearly Legal describes this as a complete farce. Establishing an eviction ban by a request by the Lord Chancellor to bailiffs organisations is, he points out, of questionable legal status. Pointing out that in most cases the bailiffs have no idea what the ground for possession is as this is not stated in the warrant.
The Lord Chancellor has also stated that he will ‘will shortly introduce an exemption for cases with extreme pre-covid rent arrears’ – is this also to be done by letter? As Nearly Legal points out:
If the rationale for any suspension of evictions is that it is really not a good idea to be evicting people in the middle of a pandemic, then any exemptions don’t make sense. It is not as if the public health rationale is affected by the reason for eviction. People with pre-covid rent arrears don’t face or cause any less of a public health issue on eviction than anyone else. The coronavirus doesn’t rely on references.
David Smith has also commented
The problem with the Government’s approach is that it is almost certainly unlawful. It is not open to Bailiffs or HCEOs to simply decline to enforce warrants and writs, even if the Lord Chancellor asks them to do so. They have a duty to do this. Indeed, there is a power to complain to the County Court, in the County Courts Act, about losses resulting from Bailiffs not enforcing warrants.
Nearly Legal again
It has, as I say, got silly. Evictions, or the lack of them, who gets evicted and who doesn’t, are not at the whim and fiat of the Lord Chancellor. This needs to be put on a statutory footing immediately. I don’t know a single housing lawyer, no matter who they act for, who thinks this is lawful.
Incidentally, I have just been notified of a government guide on understanding the possession action process which has only just been updated which you will find here.
Financial help to allow renters to pay rent needed
There is also the impact on landlords, some of whom may have no other income. As Ben Beadle, CEO of the NRLA says:
The extension of the furlough scheme and support for those who are self-employed will be a lifeline to many renters reliant on it. However, this still does not address the considerable rent arrears that tenants and landlords continue to face due to the pandemic through no fault of their own.
Ministers need urgently to develop a bespoke financial package for renters to pay off such arears. This should include a mix of interest-free government guaranteed hardship loans and increased benefit support for those who rely on it.
Landlords not taking their share?
However, at least one academic, Richard Murphy, thinks that landlords should bear most of the financial burden of the pandemic, along with the government and the finance sector.
In a post for Tax Research UK he says that it is unacceptable that individuals bear the cost of this crisis and looks at who should. Saying about landlords that
I am quite deliberately suggesting that they should bear the heaviest burden of dealing with the epidemic. The reason is simple and is that whatever happens they will still have an asset at the end of this period, and no other sector can guarantee that at present. As a consequence they have the greatest capacity to bear this cost. And, if it so happens that some landlords do fail as a consequence, the assets that they have owned will still exist after this failure and so the economy can manage the consequences of this.
I can I suppose see his point about landlords, but it seems very harsh. Most landlords are not wealthy people – for example, many are pensioners who rely on the income instead of a pension. For them to be left with no income at all on the basis that their property will still be standing after the pandemic is over does not help them pay for day to day expenses.
Landlords must carry out inspections in Wales
Rent Smart Wales has now introduced new conditions for anyone signing up from 1 July onwards which include a requirement that all properties must be inspected annually and every six months for an HMO. In addition, properties must be inspected within the first two to six months of a new tenancy. Rent Smart Wales has created a new template inspection form for them to use.
I have to say that I personally agree with this as otherwise, landlords may find that tenants have introduced new occupiers (turning the property into an HMO) or possibly turned the property into a cannabis farm. Criminals thrive in rented properties when they know that their landlord is never going to visit.
However, the new rules have been met with criticism by the NRLA in Wales, who believes them to be unnecessary.
Note by the way that we have a Kit to help landlords carry out inspections which you can read about here. It is currently on special offer.
- New Property Ombudsman, Rebecca Marsh, talks exclusively to Property Industry Eye
- Activists demand furlough-type handouts to pay tenants’ arrears
- Charities urge the return of homelessness scheme in English lockdown
- Landlord banned from financial services industry following voyeurism conviction
Newsround will be back next week