Support, Advice and Experience within the Property Market

Inquiry into the Impact of Coronavirus on Renters

From Robert Ulph on June 15, 2020

As we know the impact of Coronavirus is likely to be with us for some time and looking at what this means for housing is an interesting challenge. The Housing Communities and Local Government Committee launched an inquiry in April to explore how renters could be protected from the impact of Coronavirus.

The Interim Inquiry Report has now been published and recommendations to Government for the private rented sector include bringing forward legislation allowing judges to use discretion where a tenant is in rent arrears, due to the Coronavirus, for at least the next 12 months and accelerating the introduction of the Renters Reform Bill.

The recent Coronavirus Act 2020 introduced emergency legislation that prevents tenants from facing eviction during the crisis by amending the notice period for landlords seeking possession from two months to three months. The courts have also issued Practice Direction 51Z which suspended all ongoing and any new housing possession claims for 90 days until 25 June 2020. This is subject to review and may be extended.

The Inquiry sought to understand the impact of these measures and whether they remained effective. Evidence submitted by ARLA Propertymark to the Inquiry highlighted the concerns of letting agents and landlords that a backlog of cases from both before and during the virus have left landlords facing extended non-rent payments with no reasonable certainty of how to recover costs.

There is concern from others who have provided evidence that there could be a rush of cases when possession claims can restart. In order to prevent any sudden surge in evictions, the Committee recommends the introduction of legislation, amending the 1985 and 1988 Housing Acts, allowing judges to use discretion where a tenant is in rent arrears due to the Coronavirus crisis.

The Queen’s Speech in December already outlined the Government’s commitment to abolish the use of ‘no-fault evictions’ and re-balance the relationship between landlord and tenant by removing section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 through their proposed Renters’ Reform Bill.

In order to allow the Government breathing space to achieve a Renters’ Reform Bill that meets the needs of both renters and landlords, the Committee has recommended amending the Housing Act 1988 to allow judges to use this discretion for Coronavirus rent arrears for 12 months.

Whilst these recommendations require immediate Government action, the Committee has called for a policy solution for what to do with rent arrears that will continue to exist and build up even if tenants are protected from eviction.

Acknowledging that recent calls for rent arrears to be cancelled are undesirable, impracticable, and in the case of the private rented sector possibly illegal, the Committee recommends the Government considers alternative approaches. 

As always, I will keep up to date with how the Inquiry unfolds, so if you have questions on this or require any advice, please do not hesitate to contact me as I am always happy to help.