Renting in coronavirus lockdown: what’s the guidance for renters and landlords impacted by Covid-19 crisis?

Question: We hear about all the help that is going, quite rightly, to people whose income is threatened by this awful coronavirus but how does the situation affect private renters in the residential property market? Could people end up being evicted if they struggle to keep up rental payments?

Answer: The massive challenge of the coronavirus pandemic is impacting every aspect of our lives in ways unseen since the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.

Uncertainty and fear is rife and the scale of the policy response required from the Government is vast.

Renters in the private sector, who may struggle to pay their rent if they cannot work, or lose their income, as a result of the virus pandemic, will understandably be concerned.

Landlords, who in turn may be unable to meet their mortgage obligations, or who are simply unsure how to respond to their renters’ plight, are likewise bound to be affected by the current situation.

Seeking clarity on new legislation for rental tenants

Secretary of State for Housing Robert Jenrick announced on March 18 that the Government was introducing an emergency Bill to clarify the position.

It is widely expected that the Bill will be finalised this week.

It is expected to contain wide-ranging protections for both renters and landlords.

It is anticipated that the Bill will temporarily suspend evictions of renters from social or private rented accommodation against whom landlords have already obtained possession orders. 

This is, in practice, a reality already, as bailiffs have refused to set new appointments to evict renters. 

In addition, landlords will not be able to bring new claims for possession in the courts for a period of at least three months.

Landlords may also expect to receive a three-month payment holiday on buy-to-let mortgages. 

Because this is part of the Government’s package of emergency measures in response to the pandemic, the details will only become clear once the Bill is passed into law — and some groups have already raised questions about how the measures will work in practice.

Renters may wonder whether landlords will follow the measures. Landlord groups, including the Residential Landlords Association and the National Landlords Association have, in response, appealed to the Government to preserve landlords’ right to evict antisocial renters during the pandemic.

What does this mean for renters and landlords now?

Renters struggling to pay their rent as a direct result of the coronavirus pandemic should speak to their landlord as soon as possible in order to explain their situation and explore ways of managing the situation.

For example, the renter could ask for additional time to pay or payment in instalments.

If the renter is unable to reach an agreement with their landlord, it is recommended to still pay any amount that they can afford.

Renters should keep a record of what they have offered and also paid, following up any conversations with emails.

Renters should always remember that they will ultimately remain liable for payment of the rent in full and may still face eviction once the initial three-month period has ended. 

At the end of the emergency legislation period, if a renter is in arrears of rent, the Government has stated that landlords and renters will be expected to work together to establish an affordable repayment plan, taking into account renters’ individual circumstances.

The advice to landlords is to engage in proactive communication with their renter(s) regarding their financial situation. 

If there is any issue arising, and their rental property is mortgaged, landlords may also wish to speak to their mortgage company regarding their circumstances. 

The underlying message from the Government’s response is that renters, landlords and Government are now expected to work together so that, when the UK pulls through the Covid-19 pandemic, peoples’ lives and the economy can rebound as quickly as possible, and homelessness for renters will not become widespread.

These answers can only be a very brief commentary on the issues raised and should not be relied on as legal advice. No liability is accepted for such reliance. If you have similar issues, you should obtain advice from a solicitor.

If you have a question for Piers King, email or write to Legal Solutions, Homes & Property, Evening Standard, 2 Derry Street, W8 5EE. Questions cannot be answered individually, but we will try to feature them here.

Piers King is a solicitor in the property department of Streathers Solicitors LLP.

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