Legal scrutiny the national firm Shoosmiths picks some significant holes in the government’s evictions strategy during the crisis.
A leading law firm has examined the Ministry of Housing’s reasons for introducing a blanket three-month ban on evictions during the Coronavirus crisis and has concluded it is designed more to take pressure off the courts and property sector than anything else.
Shoosmiths says it would be better to allow landlords to continue seeking possessions orders, particularly if they are uncontested hearings, but then instruct courts to suspend the date of possession until the crisis ended or the ban was lifted.
And Ministers might still do this, reveals partner Simon Foster, if the lockdown continues.
“This would at least give landlords a degree of certainty that possession is to be given up and may help clear the inevitable backlog of cases when the ban is lifted,” he says.
Foster also says it’s unfair that the eviction ban has removed a landlord’s right to recover possession if a tenant had stopped paying their rent or been antisocial before the pandemic hit.
“Why in those circumstances should the landlord not be able to recover possession of this property?” he asks.
The Government disagrees and has said that tenants might not be able to work and catch up with rent arrears piled up during the crisis, and that if an order was contested, a telephone or Skype court hearing would most likely be impossible.
Also, a resulting possession order would risk the health of bailiffs and evicted tenants would have to be rehoused – very challenging in the current climate.
The government, in return, has advised banks that landlords can defer their mortgage payments (or ‘holidays’ as they are inaccurately called), but Shoosmiths argues this don’t help those who are mortgage free or who rely on rent to live on or to fund a business.
“When the rent arrears ban is lifted, landlords could find themselves still having to repay the mortgage lender for the holiday rental period, but also not having received any rental income,” says Foster.