We all recognise that COVID-19 has caused financial difficulties and the Government was right to consider the needs of tenants in its emergency legislation. But the latest move – extending the ban on evictions to the end of August – doesn’t just deal with the effects of the virus. It prolongs the agony for landlords who had problems with their tenants long before the pandemic began to bite.
The Government has, of course, asked landlords and agents, wherever possible to work with tenants, to be tolerant of delays in rent and to offer some form of flexibility at this time. That’s all well and good if that’s a possibility for the landlord. But contrary to what some housing campaigners might have us believe, few landlords are fat cats sitting on piles of cash. Some operating on the buy-to-let-model may have the comfort of a mortgage payment holiday, but many others are retired individuals whose income from property rental is effectively their pension. Often these landlords cannot access other forms of support.
Of course, the situation is doubly hard for those landlords who may have been struggling to get tenants to pay their agreed rent long before the crisis hit. Pre-Covid, we had hundreds of eviction cases already in the system. Effectively, the landlords concerned are powerless to make progress on a pre-existing problem for a minimum of five months. Let’s hope, for their sake, that the oldest cases and those already in the system are prioritised when the courts start working again.
The end of August is the earliest this situation will change, but it’s going to be a long time until we reach the peak of the fallout. There’s no doubt in my mind that some tenants will use the pandemic to avoid making payments they could manage, knowing full well that landlords have no redress, and that a backlog in the courts will give them further opportunity to avoid payment. What’s more, as the furlough schemes come to an end and the longer-term repercussions of lockdown hit employers more and more tenants could be in financial difficulty a situation which could persist into the start of next year.
Yes, it’s right that tenants are being protected, but who is protecting the interests of the numerous small-scale landlords? Once again, one side of the private rental sector is being favoured and landlords are expected to carry on shouldering all the burden. Surely, it’s time we saw a bit more balance.