Since the outset of the pandemic the vast majority of landlords have done all they can to support their tenants, going above and beyond to keep them in their homes, often at a cost to themselves.
Almost a quarter of private landlords with properties in England have lost rental income as a result of Covid-19, according to research by YouGov for the NRLA. Based on these figures, the NRLA estimates that private landlords have lost up to £437m as a result of the pandemic.
This is not a sustainable position.
If the Government wants the sector to continue to provide the homes to rent this country so desperately needs, the sector must be given support.
The Government must now step in with a comprehensive financial package to support renters affected by Covid-19, helping them to sustain their tenancies while they get back on their feet.
This, in turn, will allow landlords to meet their own financial commitments.
Such a move is increasingly important as the end of furlough approaches, with more redundancies expected and potentially more tenants struggling to make payments.
Many landlords who may be considering action to repossess now that the courts have reopened, will be doing so because their tenant can no longer pay the rent, leaving them with little or no income.
However if the Government can provide tenants with the means of paying their rent – through a loans system similar to those being offered in Scotland and Wales – then this issue is taken out of the equation, meaning tenancies can, and will, continue.
Adjusting to the new system
The six month stay on repossession began in March – brought in to protect renters during the pandemic. It finally ended this week.
I, as Chief Executive of the NRLA, was invited to join the judicial working group and the outcome we now have – outlined in the guidelines published last week -is a compromise.
There may be some who will argue the new system doesn’t offer enough for landlords.
However the working group wasn’t set up to change the law, but to look at the process and decide how best to safely open the courts, to ensure landlords have access to justice under the existing legislative framework.
We need to accept that the courts aren’t going to work as they did before. However, I believe a slower process is better than no process at all, and getting the courts opened means we can look at what works, what doesn’t and influence things for the better moving forward.
There can be no doubt that a better and more proportionate way of resolving housing disputes is needed now more than ever.
It is better to be in the room having difficult conversations and influencing decisions, than outside it demanding change, and I found the working group understanding of the wants and needs of landlords.
We welcome the news on the extra Nightingale Courts announced to deal with the backlog of cases and the additional 200 Deputy District Judges and Property Tribunal Judges assembled to assist.
We have seen other successes, and I am pleased the Government did not bow to pressure to rush through the abolition of Section 21 in response to the pandemic, before a functioning alternative was put in place.
Our ‘golden rules’ – nine steps to be followed by landlords when it comes to working with their tenant to avoid court – have been approved by the Government and included in official guidance.
And we also persuaded the Government to prioritise cases in which tenants are behaving anti-socially, are violent or have built up significant arrears pre-Covid, although we would like to see the level of arrears for priority treatment lowered.
With restrictions changing all the time and cases still rising, it is clear that without a vaccine, Covid-19 could be with us for a long time to come.
Given the six-month backlog, experts are already predicting it could take 12-18 months for repossession cases to come to court. There is also the risk of adjournment if the judge feels landlords have not offered their tenants sufficient support.
With this in mind I would encourage landlords to speak to their tenants, use mediation if necessary but do everything they can to keep good tenants in their homes and out of court.
We, for our part, will continue to lobby Government for a comprehensive financial support package to help landlords and tenants through these challenging time.
You can show your support by writing to your MP to back our campaign.