The rules around tenant evictions have changed over the course of the year as the pandemic situation has progressed. Now it seems many tenants in lockdown areas will remain protected, but the sector wants more clarity from the government.
Bailiffs are currently not enforcing tenant evictions in Tier 2 and Tier 3 lockdown areas in England and Wales, it has been confirmed. As the country continues to deal with the second wave of coronavirus, this is likely to be welcome news to many tenants.
However, eviction proceedings in courts are still going ahead. Earlier in the year, the government banned tenant evictions and put court hearings on hold to give renters more security during the pandemic. Court proceedings were then reopened in September, but the government also gave people a Christmas ‘grace period’. This means all actual evictions are suspended between 11th December and 11th January. Further to this, landlords must give a six-month notice period to evict tenants.
Earlier this month, Boris Johnson announced the latest local lockdown system, involving three tiers. In areas with the highest alert levels (Tier 2 and Tier 3), stricter rules now apply. At present, places like Liverpool, Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire fall under the highest level of restrictions. Many other parts of the north and Midlands, as well as London, fall under Tier 2.
Why are evictions banned?
Justice secretary Robert Buckland set the move in action earlier this month. He wrote to bailiffs’ trade associations to ask that they halt evictions in the strictest lockdown areas.
His letter stated: “We would request that your members should instruct the enforcement agents working under their authorisation not to enter properties that are classified as local alert level 2 (high) or 3 (very high).”
Many in the industry claim that tenants in rental accommodation could be unfairly affected by the pandemic. If their employment situations change, they are in danger of falling behind on rent payments. Some have put forward the idea of loans for tenants in these situations, where the payments go straight to the landlord to avoid them being out of pocket, and to keep the tenant in their home.
Chris Norris, policy director at National Residential Landlords Association, is one advocate of this. He believes it’s vital that courts hear the most serious possession cases. However, he thinks the focus should be on “sustaining tenancies wherever possible”.
He adds: “This means the government needs to bring forward a comprehensive financial package that will help tenants to pay off rent arrears built as a result of the pandemic.”
The impact on landlords
Under current eviction rules, landlords should still have protection, too. In cases where there is antisocial behaviour or serious rent arrears, for example, the courts should still hear cases.
Andy Carter, MP for Warrington South, which will enter the highest alert level (Tier 3), believes this is critical. He says: “This is very good news for many worried about the threat of eviction across Warrington. But critically, landlords will have the protection to progress serious cases of anti-social behaviour.
“Whilst we can’t have people forced out of their homes as a consequence of this pandemic, I speak to many landlords across Warrington South who rely on rents as their only source of income. Thankfully, for cases that are causing significant financial damage, whether it be crime or long-term rent mispayments, cases will be able to be dealt with appropriately.”