With comments from the Prime Minister in the House of Commons saying that they would be passing legislation to protect private renters during the Covid-19 epidemic you would hope that people could sleep easier in their beds at night during this national crisis.
However, the Independent reports that eviction firms are having to take on extra staff as “a record number of tenants” are being evicted. Why is this?
The Coronavirus Act 2020, which was fast-tracked through parliament, in a nutshell, requires landlords for the most part to give a three-month notice of eviction before evicting a tenant, rather than a two-month notice, or extends the period before an eviction can take place from two months to three months. The protection only applies to certain types of tenancy. It does not stop those evictions already initiated, nor does it protect those who are arguably in the most vulnerable position, such as those in emergency accommodation.
Shelter estimates that there are currently around 20,000 evictions already lodged with courts.
This creates a situation where tenants who were already threatened with eviction can still be evicted because the relevant protection in the legislation for tenants only takes effect from the day after the Act passed (25 March 2020) and does not act retrospectively.
The Master of the Rolls and Lord Chancellor have thankfully stepped in to extend the protection to tenants by suspending all ongoing housing possession action, filling the hole in the legislative protection, for 90 days.
However, the future for tenants who are currently safe from eviction does not look bright. Due to the government’s guidance to not attend work and the economic difficulty companies are under pressure to mitigate loss. Some employees, such as those on zero-hour contracts or whom are self-employed, face a choice: massive pay cuts or no income; or, attempting to find alternative work during this epidemic and potentially putting themselves at risk. There are also those who live with vulnerable person/s and cannot work from home. They have to choose between putting a loved one at risk or paying the rent.
This decrease in income for employees will likely lead to arrears, accruing as people are unable to pay their rent while on reduced or no salary. So even if the possession claims are delayed, further down the line people will still be evicted for the accrued rent arrears. The legislation still leaves them unprotected.
Some law firms are even advising clients to still apply for bailiff warrants and warrants of evictions so they can be first in the queue once evictions start up again.
It therefore seems evident that despite the “protection” of (certain) tenants, there are still many woefully vulnerable because of the repercussions of Covid-19; the Coronavirus Act 2020 needs to go much further to protect tenants who can be evicted from their homes as well as those who will be evicted in the near future.