While many thousands of UK tenants navigate legitimate difficulties in paying their rent, there are fears that others are able to use the coronavirus pandemic as a cover for reneging on their obligation to pay.
The pandemic has decimated many people’s finances, leaving huge numbers of honest, reliable tenants struggling to cover the rent.
Nobody could fail to sympathise with anyone in this situation.
However, there are others for whom the pandemic has provided a cover, it has given those who were bad tenants pre Covid, those who were on the brink of eviction an opportunity to remain in situ, often rent free.
The impact of this group of tenants has perhaps been under publicised.
In the UK, there are 4.5 million private rentals. Independent research has shown that in 87% of cases tenants have continued to pay full rent since the start of lockdown and in a further 8% they have agreed a reduced rate with the landlord.
That, though, leaves five percent of instances whereby the tenants are either paying no rent or are in arrears, yet are doing so unilaterally.
Five percent of 4.5 million is some 225,000 cases.
Many of these, perhaps the majority, will be tenants who are faced with vastly reduced income. In areas such as Kent and London, with rental rates well above the national average, any drop in income can impact ability to cover essential payments.
What, though, of instances where people could pay but choose not to?
A concern is that recent government interventions may have provided welcome stability for hon-est, struggling tenants, but they have also potentially created problems for many honest, strug-gling landlords.
The ban on evictions was recently extended to run until late September, that will mean evictions have been barred for six months. There must be a strong possibility yet another extension will come.
Coupled to this, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick also announced that all tenants must be given at least six months’ notice.
Meanwhile, perhaps the only solace for landlords came in Jenrick’s comment that “it is right that the most egregious cases, for example those involving anti-social behaviour or domestic abuse perpetrators, begin to be heard in court again.
“When courts reopen, landlords will once again be able to progress these priority cases.”
A Huge Backlog Of Beleaguered Landlords
It can be hard to mention the plight of landlords without appearing unsympathetic to tenants.
However, many believe that there needs to be help for both.
It is right that tenants have some certainty, especially with winter coming up, it is right that there is help available for those struggling to pay bills including their rent.
What though of landlords who may not have received rent for a year - a period spanning well be-fore Coronavirus was even a word in regular usage - and could face a wait of many months, if not years, to reclaim their property.
A recent article on the inews site suggested there is a backlog of 31,000 cases, many of these originating from pre-lockdown and so the rent arrears, at least initially, were in no way related to coronavirus.
The paper’s research also suggested there will be many new cases to hit the courts, this means there will be a huge backlog even once the courts have finally opened.
On top of this, there will be concerns relating to what is meant by ‘the most egregious cases’, Does this include those tenants who simply failed to pay rent for months even pre lockdown? What will happen to cases that had come close to judgment, close to the landlord regaining pos-session, only for lockdown to halt the process?
Our region, Kent and south east London faces some of the highest volumes of outstanding cases. In London alone, Mayor Sadiq Khan suggested a quarter of the 2.2 million private renters could be in arrears.
Every one of those renters is a story in its own right, many will be stories of hardship, but each of the affected landlords is a story too. Many will be cases of huge financial loss and the mental and then physical impact this can have.
The article referenced above details cases whereby the landlords have lost tens of thousands of pounds because the tenants have failed to pay for many months. They were bad tenants pre coronavirus, they now remain bad tenants only with seeming immunity.
They will, though, not be deemed egregiously bad. They are not leading to police call-outs, they are merely living rent free. These cases may be put to the back of the court queue, progress slowly and only lead to action in many months’ time.
As one landlord said: “This awful maligning of landlords as some sort of right-wing, selfish body of people who exploit and take advantage of the poor is just not fair.”
The landlord in question had received no rent in 18 months, was on the brink of regaining pos-session when lockdown ended all action. He now faces another wait of indeterminate length, probably at least until late 2021.
Across the UK, more than 400,000 landlord have worked with tenants to find solutions, they have agreed to reduced rent or payment holidays.
The worry is the system has little in place for those landlords who are being exploited by those for whom coronavirus has provided an unintended and wholly undeserved stay of court judge-ment.