Urgent change in the law needed to protect thousands from eviction
An urgent change in the law is needed to protect thousands of tenants from eviction because they have built up rent arrears due to the pandemic, a housing lawyer has claimed.
Under the current rules judges have to grant a possession order – leading to the eviction of the tenant – if landlords use what is known as ground 8 when a tenant falls two months behind with their rent, no matter what the reason.
Alex McMahon, a housing litigation lawyer at London law firm Osbornes Law is calling for an amendment to Section 8 (Ground 8) notices to allow judges to hear the reasons why the tenant fell behind and to give the judge a discretion as to whether it is reasonable to make a possession order.
An estimated 230,000 people could lose their homes as a result of the pandemic when the eviction ban is ended this Sunday (23), and Alex believes making this simple change to the law would prevent thousands from being evicted. The latest employment figures show there are 735,000 fewer people on company payrolls since the start of the coronavirus and the situation is expected to get worse.
“Thousands of people who are under threat of losing their homes are in this position because they have lost their jobs because of coronavirus. Under the current law, if a landlord relies on Ground 8 judges have no discretion over whether they grant possession orders if the tenant is 2 months or more in arrears, and that is clearly wrong in the middle of a global pandemic. I don’t think the government has thought about this and I would urge them to do so immediately.
“Of course, what would be even better is for there to be an extension to the current stay as more people are expected to lose their jobs and fall into financial hardship in the coming months. There will be more and more evictions as a result.”
Alex has also urged the government to bring forward the abolishment of ‘no fault’ Section 21 notices, which allow landlords the right to issue notices and to recover possession without citing any reason. Plans to abolish Section 21 were originally mentioned in the Queen’s Speech in December 2019
Despite the ban on evictions Alex says there has been a spike in illegal evictions since the start of lockdown.
“We would normally have seen one or two illegal eviction enquiries a month before coronavirus, but since the stay to possession proceedings was brought in we have seen around two enquiries a week. Some landlords have unfortunately decided to take matters into their own hands by changing the locks when the tenants are away and putting the tenant’s furniture in storage.”
Alex adds that while he expects to see a flurry of possession and eviction notices, the courts are unlikely to be able to cope and many cases will not be heard for several months.
“Busy housing courts would ordinarily hear around 30-40 cases on a given day, up to 3 times per week, but we have been told it will be more like 10 a day because of social distancing. Even though they are looking at putting on extra courts the system is going to struggle to cope and it will be months before many cases see a court room.”
Alex adds that if a tenant is given an eviction notice they should first speak to their landlord to try to sort out a payment plan. If that fails then the tenant should seek legal advice as soon as they can.
“A lot of cases end up in court because the tenant buries their head in the sand.
“Most landlords are reasonable and if tenants engage with them then they will try to come to a solution. If that isn’t possible, I would urge tenants to seek legal advice. With the large number of expected claims and some new requirements for landlords when issuing their claims I anticipate that technical errors will be made. Sometimes these mistakes can be fatal to the landlord’s claim, or they may serve to delay the eviction.”
Kindly shared by Osbornes Law
Main article photo courtesy of Pixabay