(Or How the Government are Colluding with Tenants to Wreck the Private Rental Sector and steal your Grandma’s income)
Tenants have been given the green light by the Government to occupy property at no cost. With the legislated balance of rights and responsibilities, tenants can unilaterally determine what responsibilities they will or will not exercise, for example paying the rent, with the threat of a civil slap on the wrist, whilst the landlord must operate under the threat of criminal conviction and crippling fines for stepping out of line in any way.
It’s heart breaking to see small private landlords, many of them ‘accidental’, being driven to despair by government policies designed to put as many obstacles as possible between them and a fair relationship with their tenants, and equally depressing to see organisations which help tenants in trouble sometimes giving advice to say nothing and sit tight until the courts evict them. Housing policy has spawned an adversarial system in which tenants are helpless victims of the landlord class who are shamelessly exploiting them for profit. But so far has the pendulum of rights and responsibilities swung in favour of the feckless or dishonest tenant that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to imagine why honest, decent tenants would want to stay quiet and be associated with them, and why landlords would want to stay in the private rental sector against the barrage of abuse they endure.
Of course, I’m not referring to all tenants here – I’m talking about a minority. Most manage the swings and roundabouts of rights and responsibilities fairly and would surely want to be out there supporting landlords to solve the problem. These landlords are your mums and dads. And before anyone protests that there are bad landlords too – yes, that’s true but I’m not writing about them right now, I’m writing about bad tenants.
What’s happened during the coronavirus pandemic has brought enormous injustices into sharp relief, as pensioners, second-families, small investors and accidental second property owners have had their properties requisitioned by the state and handed to professional tenants who have nothing better to do but conspire to find new methods of stealing accommodation from those ruthless capitalists on the hill, Auntie Mabel and Uncle Bob.
Put simply, a huge number of people who rely on the private sector for their housing, many of whom would be on the streets if it wasn’t for my mum or your pensioner uncle because the state doesn’t have a social housing system, have now come to the attention of our knee-jerkers in Whitehall. Or rather, their votes have.
So here’s what they came up with. Without any thought for the effect on the incomes of tens of thousands of private landlords, the government signalled to a whole section of society that it’s okay not to pay the rent, and that the consequence of this would be nothing at all for many months. This will probably be a year or so, because they also decided that courts are not allowed to hear possession cases through which landlords can exercise what few rights they actually have over their own property, which is actually close to none. Even after Auntie Mabel decodes a ream of legislation and delivers the six months notice she is required to give before the tenant even has to start thinking about whether to move out or not, which he won’t, Uncle Bob still has to fight his way through the court system to get a possession order which will be refused for a spelling mistake somewhere.
Of course there are good arguments for not evicting anyone during a pandemic; life is hard enough without being homeless as well.
In return for this edict requiring the private landlord to bear the costs of social policy, your Uncle Bob was given no consideration. None. Not a single aspect of Government policy or court procedure was eased, not a single rule relaxed, not a single law relating to the landlord’s responsibilities was stayed for the period. Not one. And not a single penny of assistance has been offered to people for whom that rent may be the income that supplements their state pension and for whom the property may be the capital which excludes them from state help for care fees.
I can only assume the Government thinks that landlords are stupid enough to try and evict good tenants. They’re not. Nobody ever turned up in court to say their tenants are fantastic but they wanted them evicted to make their lives more difficult. The whole point of most evictions is to evict bad tenants who collectively have become expert at gaming the system whilst simultaneously wrecking the properties of people who’ve had the wit to organise their own pension plan and finding ever more ingenious state-sponsored ways to not pay their rent.