Sim Sekhon, managing director of LegalforLandlords, has criticised the decision not to enforce court possession orders, leaving hundreds of landlords powerless in tackling rogue tenants.
The company supports hundreds of landlords across the UK and says many have been unable to deal with problem tenants since February – rent arrears continue to mount nine months on and damage to property continues to worsen, resulting in a hefty financial hit for the landlord.
The government’s official ban on evictions lapsed in September, but Labour shadow housing secretary, Thangam Debbonaire, Shelter CEO Polly Neate, and Generation Rent director, Alicia Kennedy, have called on Ministers to reinstate the ban. Others, including LegalforLandlords, have pointed out than the ban effectively remains in place as long as bailiffs are prevented from proceeding with warrants, and the court backlog continuing to mount.
LegalforLandlords is currently working with 64 landlords whose hearings for March, April and May were cancelled. They were forced to submit ‘reactivation notices’ for their case to be continued but are still waiting for the court to provide a date.
A further 112 cases have been issued at court – without an update in response – and 53 bailiff appointments are still not set. The company is dealing with 55 High Court enforcement cases which officers are unable to attend to collect rent due as the properties are in Tiers 2 and 3. Now, with lockdown extended across the UK, that figure will rise further.
Sekhon explained, “We have landlords with tenants in rent arrears of around 12 months and the courts are not listing hearings. We’ve been advised that cases dealing with high-level rent arrears – that’s 10 months or more – and cases with domestic violence, ASB and criminal activity will take precedent but so far we certainly haven’t seen any evidence of that in practice.
“Landlords are extremely frustrated with the process and delays and the latest rules merely heap more misery upon those having to deal with problem tenants, who are being given the freedom to continue withholding rent and destroying properties. There needs to be a better way of dealing with rogue tenants instead of expecting landlords to pick up the pieces.”
With the new restrictions in place, landlords are expected to mediate with tenants if rent is in arrears and discuss negotiations. Review hearings are now much more likely, which means landlords must file a paginated court bundle both to the court and the defendant at least 14 days prior to the hearing. Landlords will be set a date when the judge will review the court file, and a data for the substantive hearing. At least 14 days before the review date, they will need to confirm to the court that they will be contactable on that date, send the court an electronic copy of all the case documents and confirm the tenant has had the same.
On the date of review, there will be a duty scheme advice arrangement in place to promote settlement. Landlords must be available to discuss the case with the tenant and, where possible, reach a settlement without progressing to a substantive hearing. Where a settlement cannot be agreed, a possession hearing will then be scheduled.
Landlords would ordinarily expect to wait around 8-10 weeks for a hearing date – they are now having to wait 5-6 months. It can then not proceed to bailiff enforcement during lockdown or if a property is located in a Tier 2 or Tier 3 area.
Sekhon said: “Pre-Covid, rent arrears of more than 30 days hovered around the 2-3% mark – now, as of October this year, that figure is more like 5.5%. It’s actually not a huge increase, but for those landlords affected, it creates real worry and isn’t being addressed. It’s important that this is acknowledged and dealt with – the few landlords that are affected should be supported.”