The government has responded to a petition calling for evictions after two weeks’ rent arrears, which has attracted almost 12,000 signatures.
Property investor Ranjan Bhattacharya launched the petition in early October calling on the government to enable landlords to start evictions once a tenant falls more than two weeks behind in their rent.
The government has been under growing pressure to protect tenants from the threat of losing their homes during the coronavirus pandemic, following the end of the temporary ban on landlords evicting tenants, but Bhattacharya wants to see more done to help buy-to-let landlords.
BTL landlords could be facing up to two years without rent due to the government’s decision to introduce a six-month eviction ban, the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) recently calculated.
Tenants across the UK are facing months of rent arrear payments as a consequence of the current pandemic.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “Landlords can seek possession where tenants have 14 days rent arrears, given emergency legislation, landlords must give six months’ notice in such cases before starting formal possession proceedings.
“We recognise the important role that landlords play in providing homes to millions of people nationwide. Under Section 8 and Schedule 2 of the Housing Act 1988, private landlords can seek possession for rent arrears of any value.
“For arrears under two months, there are two grounds available – ground 10 applies where any level of rent arrears may have occurred and ground 11 covers persistent late payment of rent. These grounds are discretionary; the Judge will decide whether it is in the interests of all parties to award possession. For possession to be guaranteed, ground 8 allows for possession where there are at least two months/eight weeks of rent arrears. Prior to 26 March 2020, landlords were required to give tenants a minimum of two weeks’ notice before seeking possession under any of these rent arrears grounds.
“Landlords are also able to seek possession of property under Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 for any reason after a fixed-term tenancy has ended, the court must award possession if technical and safety requirements have been met. Prior to 26 March 2020, landlords were required to give tenants a minimum of 2 months’ notice before seeking possession under Section 21.
“In order to protect public health given COVID-19, since 29 August 2020, landlords have been required to give tenants six months’ notice, except in the most egregious circumstances. The temporary measures the Government has implemented seek to support the most vulnerable renters and protect public health over winter, whilst ensuring that landlords can exercise their right to justice in the most serious cases.
“We understand that there are some cases that landlords should be able to progress more quickly, because of the pressure they place on landlords, other tenants and local communities. Therefore, notice periods for the most serious circumstances, including in instances of anti-social behaviour and where six months of rent is due, have been reduced to between two and four weeks. Landlords are still able to seek possession for all levels of rent arrears, but must provide six months’ notice if less than six months of rent is due.
“Given the ongoing pressures of the pandemic, the Government believes this approach strikes a fair balance of ensuring landlords can progress the most urgent cases whilst ensuring ongoing protections to tenants. To further protect against coronavirus transmission, the Government has temporarily changed the law to ensure bailiffs do not enforce evictions in England until 11 January 2021. The only exceptions to this are the most serious circumstances, which does not include 14 days rent arrears.
“The Government has been clear that tenants remain liable for paying their rent. An early conversation between landlord and tenant can help to agree a plan if tenants are struggling to pay their rent.
“To help tenants pay their rent, the Government has put in place an unprecedented financial support package. This includes support for business to pay staff salaries through the Job Retention Scheme, with employees receiving 80% of their current salary for hours not worked until March 2021. We have also introduced substantial welfare support to help those who are facing financial disruption. This includes, in 2020/21, an extra £1 billion to increase Local Housing Allowance rates so that they cover the lowest 30% of market rents. As announced at the spending round for 2020/21 there is already £180 million for local authorities to distribute in Discretionary Housing Payments to support renters with housing costs.
“We are grateful to landlords for their forbearance during this difficult time and are conscious of the financial pressure on landlords. Where landlords find themselves in coronavirus-related hardship, mortgage lenders have agreed to offer payment holidays of up to six months, including for buy-to-let mortgages. This was further extended, with applications open to 31 March 2021 and those that have already started a mortgage payment holiday will be able to top up to six months without this being recorded on their credit file.
“Where possible and appropriate, including cases of rent arrears, we encourage landlords and tenants to consider alternative dispute resolution such as mediation to reach a mutually acceptable agreement to resolve their dispute, without the matter needing to go to court.
“When parliamentary time allows, the Government is committed to introducing reforms to deliver a fairer and more effective rental market. This will be achieved by legislating to remove Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, to provide tenants with more security – but also strengthening the grounds for eviction to ensure that landlords have confidence that they can gain possession when it is fair to do so. This includes working closely with the Ministry of Justice to explore how we can simplify court processes and make them work more efficiently.”
At 100,000 signatures, this petition will be considered for debate in Parliament