The government has rejected a call for landlords to have powers to evict tenants who fall 14 days into arrears.
Property investor Ranjan Bhattacharya launched the petition two months ago but so far it has a modest 12,500 signatures.
Bhattacharya says: “You can't go into a supermarket and steal your week’s groceries. There are laws in place to protect shop keepers large and small. Not paying rent is also theft with the landlord being the victim. In Australia, tenants can be evicted for being 14 days in arrears with rent. Let’s have that system here.”
The government, it appears, does not agree.
In a lengthy formal response to Bhattacharya, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government explains the legal system of possession, and then says: “We understand that there are some cases that landlords should be able to progress more quickly, because of the pressure they place on landlords, other tenants and local communities.
“Therefore, notice periods for the most serious circumstances, including in instances of anti-social behaviour and where six months of rent is due, have been reduced to between two and four weeks.
“Landlords are still able to seek possession for all levels of rent arrears, but must provide six months’ notice if less than six months of rent is due. Given the ongoing pressures of the pandemic, the Government believes this approach strikes a fair balance of ensuring landlords can progress the most urgent cases whilst ensuring ongoing protections to tenants. To further protect against coronavirus transmission, the Government has temporarily changed the law to ensure bailiffs do not enforce evictions in England until 11 January 2021.
“The only exceptions to this are the most serious circumstances, which does not include 14 days rent arrears.
“The Government has been clear that tenants remain liable for paying their rent. An early conversation between landlord and tenant can help to agree a plan if tenants are struggling to pay their rent.
“To help tenants pay their rent, the Government has put in place an unprecedented financial support package. This includes support for business to pay staff salaries through the Job Retention Scheme, with employees receiving 80% of their current salary for hours not worked until March 2021. We have also introduced substantial welfare support to help those who are facing financial disruption. This includes, in 2020/21, an extra £1 billion to increase Local Housing Allowance rates so that they cover the lowest 30% of market rents. As announced at the spending round for 2020/21 there is already £180 million for local authorities to distribute in Discretionary Housing Payments to support renters with housing costs.
“We are grateful to landlords for their forbearance during this difficult time and are conscious of the financial pressure on landlords. Where landlords find themselves in coronavirus-related hardship, mortgage lenders have agreed to offer payment holidays of up to six months, including for buy-to-let mortgages. This was further extended, with applications open to 31 March 2021 and those that have already started a mortgage payment holiday will be able to top up to six months without this being recorded on their credit file.
“Where possible and appropriate, including cases of rent arrears, we encourage landlords and tenants to consider alternative dispute resolution such as mediation to reach a mutually acceptable agreement to resolve their dispute, without the matter needing to go to court.When parliamentary time allows, the Government is committed to introducing reforms to deliver a fairer and more effective rental market.
“This will be achieved by legislating to remove Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, to provide tenants with more security – but also strengthening the grounds for eviction to ensure that landlords have confidence that they can gain possession when it is fair to do so. This includes working closely with the Ministry of Justice to explore how we can simplify court processes and make them work more efficiently.”
The petition is still online here.