Well tomorrow the stay on evictions will be lifted and the courts will be back in business.
Many residents in the shadow private rented sector are in low paid jobs, often in the hospitality industry, working as hotel cleaners, house cleaners, restaurants etc. Their zero hours, gig economy employment already making their existence precarious even before the pandemic took the tide out and exposed them like Starfish on a deserted beach.
During the stay, government had time to address various calls to change policy to manage the growing rent arrears problem of tenant’s suffering reduced income as a result of loss of work and in many cases, a transfer onto woefully inadequate benefits, that’s if they even had recourse to public funds and weren’t screwed by visa restrictions that allow them to work only.
Calls came from different directions to variously, drop the rent arrears debt, provide low or no interest loans for tenants to cover rent arrears, lift the benefit cap etc but government did not address the problem in that way.
Instead, they decided to concentrate on the mechanisms for landlords being able to get possession once the courts are processing again. We are now seeing 6 month notices, reactivation notices, claims based on rent arrears relating to 25% of a landlord’s total income, new case management review hearings, prioritizing “Allegations” of illegal sub-letting, even though with Rent 2 Rent scamming the landlord always alleges that the sub-letting is a legal, even when more often it is isn’t.
So effectively, on Monday the courts are returning to a new normal but in reality it is going to be far harder for a landlord to obtain a possession order because of the extra barriers imposed on what has always been a fiendishly complicated process anyway.
Months ago we heard of the procurement of “Nightingale courts” to deal with the backlog of cases but I hear that hasn’t exactly gone smoothly. We also heard, at the same time, of plans to open courts at weekends but the MoJ have gone mysteriously quiet on that one.
In an excellent article by housing barrister David Renton in Tribune Mag at the weekend, we learned that “The number of hearings per judge per morning will be scaled down from 30-50 in a typical pre-Covid possession list, to a quarter of that number” and the ever watchful Nearly Legal recently informed us that it is planned to draft in another 200 judges, although god only knows what court rooms they are going to be sitting in and where does anyone suddenly find 200 judges? Is there are reserve army of them waiting to be recalled?
So what does all this mean in reality?
Well it means that the stay is lifted but some serious brakes have been put on the process of getting a possession order and how will this filter down?
Make no mistake, judges are going to be frustrated and angry about this as well. Some will even be as confused as the lawyers representing tenants and landlords, not to mention the fiasco of tenants representing themselves you can expect a lot of adjournments and suspensions, to allow for anomalies to be rectified and legal points clarified, delaying proceedings even further, bearing in mind that hastily drafted practice directions and amendments will have more holes in than Swiss Cheese when put to the test in real life cases.
For a start, how the hell is anyone going to establish 25% of a landlord’s total income? Or whether a sub-letting is actually illegal? Rent 2 Rent scammers aren’t exactly famous for their honesty.
The next concern is, how will the landlord community react to this new procedures and the inevitable delays they will create, particularly the new 6 month s21 notices that wont enable an application for possession to be made until well into next year?
To be honest, when it comes to the shadow PRS where Safer Renting operates exclusively, the landlords and agents don’t bother the courts much anyway, preferring the use of force and coercion to irritating trifles like filling in a form but we have been seeing a steady but worrying build up in illegal evictions in the past few months and the pace has really come on in the past few weeks, to a point where we have had to take on two new trainee TROs to meet demand.
A couple of years ago there were only two or three of us, now we are a team of 10 are working flat out.
The big question is, will landlords who wouldn’t normally illegally evict a tenant, take a chance out of desperation or frustration at the deliberately constructed procedural, barbed wire fence?
Eviction specialist Paul Shamplina thinks so, he has written about it, as has lawyer David Smith, ex head of policy for the RLA when he says in his article “Wither the stay?”- Going forward, it seems likely that some landlords will resort to the unlawful evictions”.
So forget cynical old me wittering on with my usual “Woe, woe and thrice woe”, even people who spend their lives speaking up for the landlord’s side are seeing the writing on the wall and predicting a rise in illegal evictions, on top of the rise we have already been seeing in the previous months.
Few of which will make waves in the upper echelons because as those who read my recent article on illegal eviction on this blog, nobody keeps count of them, except Safer Renting and we only have figures from our 7 partner London Boroughs. We picked up 4 illegal evictions in 24 hours this week and the Lewisham Council TRO informed me they picked up 3 in one day, two of whom are currently in temporary accommodation provided by the homelessness unit while they seek reinstatement.
With these new provisions in place we wont see the tsunami of evictions being predicted, they will be slowed down and spread over the coming year but we are quite likely to see a tsunami of illegal evictions in response as landlords trying to do things right, meet a wall of Orwellian bricks designed to frustrate and dissuade.
I find it interesting however, that while the landlord community is always at pains to put as much distance between the conventional landlord and their criminal counterparts, it is becoming apparent that when faced with enduring hits to their business model and joining the criminal fraternity, even their own spokespeople are predicting a turn to the dark side.
Thucydides wrote about a pandemic that hit Athens in 430BC which was summed up by Katherine Kelaidis, resident scholar at the National Hellenic Museum in Chicago, who said, “The Greeks very much had this sense … that civilization is a very thin veneer and that under even slight amounts of pressure, that social contract starts to break down”.
Plus ca change as they say
by Ben Reeve Lewis