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The law has changed: what landlords and tenants need to know

The government has set out a new level of legal protection for both tenants and landlords in the rental market. Here’s how the changes could affect you.

A number of rule changes have now come into force which will impact thousands of renters and buy-to-let landlords across the country. The legislation aims to help those in the private rented sector who are affected, either directly or indirectly, by the coronavirus outbreak.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick says the move marks an “unprecedented measure to help keep people in their homes over the winter months”. He also reassures landlords that they will “have access to justice” too in the event of rogue tenants.

New rules protecting tenants

Landlords must now give tenants six months’ notice to evict them from their properties. This change, which was announced at the end of August, has now been solidified by emergency legislation.

The extended notice period will be in effect until at least the end of March 2021. It means tenants will be able to stay in their homes over winter. The government’s “winter truce” also means evictions due to take place in local lockdown areas won’t be enforced by bailiffs. The only exception to this will be in serious cases involving antisocial behaviour or domestic abuse.

A £180m funding package is also now available for local authorities to support vulnerable renters. This will contribute towards ‘Discretionary Housing Payments’ which councils can distribute to help renters with housing costs.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick says: “We have protected renters during the pandemic by banning evictions for six months – the longest eviction ban in the UK.”

“To further support renters we have increased notice periods to six months, an unprecedented measure to help keep people in their homes over the winter months.”

Are landlords protected too?

The government is often heavily criticised within the PRS for a lack of protection for landlords. Since March, landlords have not been able to access courts to regain possession of their properties. This includes cases where tenants have broken the law, have serious rent arrears or antisocial behaviour issues.

Now, the government says it would like to “thank landlords for their forbearance during this difficult time”. In its announcement, the Housing Department has also explained how it will help landlords in difficulty.

The courts will reopen from 21st September to hear possession cases. Cases will be subject to new court processes and proceedings, including:

  • Courts will hear cases in order of priority. Cases where there is extreme antisocial behaviour or other crimes will take precedence. The same applies for extreme rent arrears where landlords would otherwise face unmanageable debts.
  • No cases from before 3 August 2020 will immediately proceed to hearing. The landlord will have to ‘re-activate’ these cases.
  • Landlords will also need to provide the courts and judges with information on how tenants have been affected by the pandemic. Without this information, judges will be able to adjourn proceedings until it is provided.

Robert Jenrick adds: “It’s right that we strike a balance between protecting vulnerable renters and ensuring landlords whose tenants have behaved in illegal or anti-social ways have access to justice.”

“Our legislation means such cases will be subject to shorter notice periods and then prioritised through the judiciary’s new court processes.”

Tenants must pay their rent

Some landlords have made agreements with their tenants to reduce or delay rent payments. Unplanned rent arrears have only happened in a minority of cases, according to a poll by the NRLA.

The survey revealed that an overwhelming majority of tenants and landlords have been working together throughout the crisis. More than 95% of private renters have continued to pay rent, or have set up an agreement with their landlord.

Around 87% have continued to pay full rent as normal throughout the past few months, said the survey. Only 3% of tenants who are in arrears are unwilling or unable to repay their rent. Of these, less than a third have received a possession notice from their landlord.

And the NRLA has found that landlords are doing “everything they can to keep tenants in their homes”. More than half (55%) of landlords have allowed at least one tenant to defer their rent, and plan to absorb these losses themselves.

In the government’s latest statement, it adds: “We are very conscious of the pressure on landlords and do not want to exacerbate this. It is important to stress that tenants who are able to do so must continue to pay their rent.”

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