An industry service supplier has revealed the scale of the backlog in possession cases which cannot be pursued to eviction because of govrrnment restrictions.
After the lengthy eviction ban over spring and summer, the government early last month asked bailiff organisations not to undertake any evictions in areas classified as Tier 2 or Tier 3 under current Covid alert systems. On November 5 it asked bailiff organisations not to undertake any evictions during the English lockdown, with only a few exceptions.
Now LegalforLandlords - just one of hundreds of companies operating with buy to let investors - has told Landlord Today it is currently working with no fewer than 64 landlords whose hearings for March, April and May were cancelled.
They were forced to submit ‘reactivation notices’ for their cases to be continued but are still waiting for the court to provide a date.
A further 112 cases have been issued at court - without an update in response - and 53 bailiff appointments are still not set.
The company is also dealing with 55 High Court enforcement cases which officers are unable to attend to collect rent due as the properties are in Tiers 2 and 3. Now, with lockdown extended across the UK, it says that figure will rise further.
LegalforLandlords’ managing director, Sim Sekhon, has criticised the decision not to enforce court possession orders, saying it will leave hundreds of landlords powerless in tackling rogue tenants.
Sekhon says: “We have landlords with tenants in rent arrears of around 12 months and the courts are not listing hearings. We’ve been advised that cases dealing with high-level rent arrears - that’s 10 months or more - and cases with domestic violence, ASB and criminal activity will take precedent but so far we certainly haven’t seen any evidence of that in practice.
“Landlords are extremely frustrated with the process and delays and the latest rules merely heap more misery upon those having to deal with problem tenants, who are being given the freedom to continue withholding rent and destroying properties. There needs to be a better way of dealing with rogue tenants instead of expecting landlords to pick up the pieces.”
With the new restrictions in place, landlords are expected to mediate with tenants if rent is in arrears and discuss negotiations.
Sekhon suggests that review hearings are now much more likely, which means landlords must file a paginated court bundle both to the court and the defendant at least 14 days prior to the hearing.
Landlords will be set a date when the judge will review the court file, and a data for the substantive hearing. At least 14 days before the review date, they will need to confirm to the court that they will be contactable on that date, send the court an electronic copy of all the case documents and confirm the tenant has had the same.
On the date of review, there will be a duty scheme advice arrangement in place to promote settlement. Landlords must be available to discuss the case with the tenant and, where possible, reach a settlement without progressing to a substantive hearing. Where a settlement cannot be agreed, a possession hearing will then be scheduled.
Landlords would ordinarily expect to wait around eight to 10 weeks for a hearing date - they are now having to wait five to six months.
It can then not proceed to bailiff enforcement during lockdown or if a property is located in a Tier 2 or Tier 3 area.
Sekhon adds: “Pre-Covid, rent arrears of more than 30 days hovered around the two to three per cent mark - now, as of October this year, that figure is more like 5.5 per cent. It’s actually not a huge increase, but for those landlords affected, it creates real worry and isn’t being addressed. It’s important that this is acknowledged and dealt with - the few landlords that are affected should be supported.”