Why court reform is needed as well as possession hearings
The rental sector is holding its breath as the deadline for re-opening the courts to start possession hearings draws perilously close. We have seen two extensions to the evictions ban since the courts closed in March and the huge backlog of cases waiting to be heard must be tackled. Landlord organisations are urging the Government to stick to the timetable – quite rightly in our view. ARLA estimates that when the stay on possession claims expires, “there will be a potential backlog of over 62,000 ‘business as usual’ landlord possession claims”. And this eye-watering figure doesn’t include claims resulting from COVID-19.
Barring another last-minute U-turn, once the courts are back in business, there will still be a time-lag for landlords seeking repossession. From Monday, the evictions process for tenants who were in arrears pre-lockdown can start. But notice periods have changed and tenants with more than six months’ arrears must be told four weeks in advance of the landlords’ intention to start proceedings against them. The new notice periods are as follows:
- anti-social behaviour (now 4 weeks’ notice)
- domestic abuse (now 2 to 4 weeks’ notice)
- false statement (now 2 to 4 weeks’ notice)
- over 6 months’ accumulated rent arrears (now 4 weeks’ notice)
- breach of immigration rules ‘Right to Rent’ (now 3 months’ notice)
The Government has taken the decision to put any change to Section 21 on hold. So the ‘no fault’ option will still be available to landlords – for the time being. However, looking ahead it is clear that if the system is not to end up in complete chaos and landlords failed completely, genuine court reform is needed. The Government must resist the temptation to simply tinker at the edges and look long and hard at the way possession cases are dealt with.
ARLA is calling for Section 8 to be reformed, and a new specialist housing tribunal created. The organisation also thinks all grounds for possession, both existing and new “should be made mandatory in order to effectively compensate for the removal of Section 21”. They predict that if the government fails to act, supply will “almost certainly fall”. That would be disastrous for tenants as demand for rented homes post-Covid, is likely to grow.
We agree that public confidence in the private rented sector is absolutely vital – as is the trust of investors that the market will remain viable. Private landlords house a fifth of the nation and it’s time to give them the support they need.
Author : Maryanne Bowring
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