After 6 months of no evictions in the UK, the government has lifted this temporary measure and replaced it with another short-term tool, a six-month notice period, to protect renters over the winter months. Ministers have also promised to review the laws around renting to make it fairer for tenants in the future.
This prompts the question, is eviction really an effective solution to most landlord and tenant problems? We know it is a standard tool to empower the property owners so they can protect themselves against damage or debt where their rental home is concerned but it is undoubtedly expensive and stressful for both parties. It can also trap renters in poverty and insecure housing.
The Coronavirus lockdown over the UK was a time when many people had an opportunity to explore how to approach problems in a different way and to take a look at how we could generally do things better. Polls have been taken of UK citizens’ opinions which show many of us don’t want to return to ‘normal’ and that we would like to move to a fairer society. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/12/only-12-want-a-return-to-the-old-normal-britain-after-covid-19
The threat of an increase in homelessness across the country caused by redundancies and impending evictions may be the catalyst for a rental system change that tenants have been craving for a long time. If money and strategies can be focussed on preventing homelessness in a crisis, surely it can be done on a long-term basis. Returning to ‘normal’ in housing terms would mean we missed a chance to examine how precarious the current system is and learn how to improve it.
When the government banned evictions on rental properties at the start of lockdown the housing secretary Robert Jenrick urged landlords to act with compassion and try to work out flexible payment plans but there was no actual set of guidelines as to how to cope with a loss of rent or advice as to solving problems without eviction. He said, “Eviction hearings will not be heard in courts until the end of August and no-one will be evicted from their home this summer due to coronavirus.” This indicates an understanding of the link between evictions and homelessness.
Many campaign groups put pressure on the government to extend the ban on evictions beyond the summer to continue to protect renters from the fallout of lockdown. Those voices appear to have been heard but campaigns continue to demand more financial support for renters affected by lockdown.
The housing and homelessness charity Shelter is now requesting that the government protects renters from eviction by ‘giving judges real power to ensure no-one is evicted as a result of coronavirus’. The charity says that Universal Credit and other benefits alone are not enough to cover rent as so many in the UK lose their jobs resulting from the pandemic. Generation Rent and other groups have also taken this stance.
As well as the reports of landlords continuing to threaten tenants with eviction during lockdown, stories have arisen of landlords and tenants over the country working out compromises to overcome rent problems and prevent tenancies from coming to an end. In Frome, we know from letting agents who we surveyed that not only did landlords agree to drop the rent for a period when tenants said they couldn’t pay the full amount but some landlords even approached agencies to reduce the rent without a request from the tenant.
Good arbitration from a third party can certainly prevent eviction needing to occur as many tenancy problems are made worse by a breakdown in communication or misunderstandings. That third party can be a letting agent, Mendip Housing https://www.mendip.gov.uk/article/7964/Housing if the tenants are under threat of homelessness or sometimes the Citizens Advice Bureau. There is also a property redress scheme which each letting agent must belong to who may be able to resolve some issues that can prevent eviction.
But when communication between parties is good, great things can happen. One tenant just outside Frome was a professional painter and decorator who was so grateful for the understanding given by his landlord when he couldn’t afford all his rent, that as he got back on his feet he re-painted the whole house, in the landlord’s choice of colour.
Eviction laws have been improved for tenants in recent years and now tenants cannot be evicted if they have made a complaint about repairs and those repairs are still outstanding. Shelter has lots of advice on this https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/repairs/revenge_eviction_if_you_ask_for_repairs and also on what to do if you are a tenant who receives an S21 Notice to leave the property.
Fair Housing for Frome recognises that the landlord’s role can be a tough one and as a group we want to do all we can to support both parties to prevent evictions and homelessness.