Renters' rights during COVID-19

Tuesday 19 May 2020

On 6 May housing and homelessness charity, Shelter joined us at a YWTea webinar to talk to young women about renters' rights both before and during the coronavirus outbreak. In this blog, Tyrone from Shelter outlines the key rights you have as a tenant in private rented housing.

to letWe are living in times of unprecedented uncertainty, with many concerned about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on their housing, welfare and finances. With this, it is vital that renters know their rights and are able to exercise those rights when needed. We’ve been working with Young Women’s Trust to make sure young women have the information they need.

Important changes to know about
A huge recent change to the private rented sector is the suspension of evictions, which is due to last until the end of June. All evictions which were due to be processed in the courts for a period of 90 days from 27 March 2020 have been suspended. This has put a halt to all existing eviction proceedings in the courts along with any new eviction claims being processed.

The government also increased the notice period for all tenancies to 3 months. This, along with the evictions suspension, applies to all tenants of private and social housing -- however there are different rules for lodgers and those in temporary accommodation. Whilst the evictions suspension is still ongoing, it is important to note you can still be served a notice during this period, although no one can act on this notice until the courts re-open.

What Shelter are calling for
Whilst the temporary ban on evictions has been welcomed, at Shelter we are growing increasingly concerned about what will happen when this ban is lifted and the potential for a wave of evictions. This is why we are calling for added protections to safeguard renters from impending evictions as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. We are calling for amendments to the notices used to evict private and social tenants, to ensure that no one is evicted due to the impact of coronavirus. The Shelter blog details exactly what we are asking of the government and why it is so important they make these changes.

The issue of rent
The reason this has become so important is that so many people are currently struggling to pay their rent. It’s important to remember that all rent is still legally due to landlords. Whilst some landlords have agreed to reductions in rent or a temporary suspension on rent payments, legally speaking all rent is still due. This means that any rent not paid will still count as rent arrears, which could potentially have repercussions further down the line. Some landlords have attempted to raise the rent for tenants and it is important to know they can only legally do this if they follow the correct procedure.

Millions of renters are currently struggling with their rent, and with this, are having to rely on Universal Credit and housing benefit for help to pay. If you are struggling to pay your rent, and have not checked whether you are entitled to support, you can use this tool to find out what you are entitled to. If you are paid Universal Credit, you may receive the ‘Housing Element’ which is determined by the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rate for your area as well as the size of your household. Currently, LHA rates do not cover the average rents of properties across the UK, which means that many households who are relying on Universal Credit to pay their rent are not getting paid enough to cover this and have to pay the shortfall with money meant for food or other essentials. This is why Shelter are calling for the LHA rate to be increased to cover at least average rental costs across the UK.

Along with increasing LHA, there is also a need to lift the Benefit cap. Increasing LHA rates will be won’t work if households cannot access the funds due to being affected by the benefit cap, which restricts the amount of total benefits a household can receive. We will continue to campaign for lifting the benefit cap to enable households to access the support they need.

Repairs during lockdown
 Some tenants have asked Shelter about landlords refusing to carry out repairs during the pandemic. Landlords have the same responsibilities for repairs during the coronavirus outbreak and whilst it is acceptable there could be some delays, your landlord cannot flatly refuse and you can seek support should they refuse.

On the other side, if the landlord would like to enter your property and carry out a repair, it would depend on the nature of the repair work as to whether you need to let them in. Simply put, if the repair work is urgent or a health and safety issue, you are required to let them in. Legally speaking, a tenant always retains the legal right to refuse access into the property for anybody, including the landlord, however if it is an urgent repair refusing entry may mean you are breaching the contract and the landlord might be able to obtain a court order for entry.

Your rights
Despite these different circumstances, your fundamental rights as a renter do still apply. You can still follow the process to get your deposit back if you are owed one, you can still take steps to end your tenancy and you can always seek advice from our Shelter advice pages, webchat or over the phone, if you are concerned about your rights.

Tyrone Scott, Community Organiser at Shelter

Sign up for our next free YWTea webinar for young women on 28 May. Deeba Syed, Senior Legal Officer at Rights of Women will be answering questions about your employment rights and access to benefits during the coronavirus crisis.

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