Following a recent question from Labour councillors, the leader of the council said that there was no plan for Guildford Borough Council to give guidance to local landlords about managing tenants who find themselves in rent arrears as a result of coronavirus. For example, some jobs will disappear as furlough is tapered out and companies face the realities of the post-Covid slump. Student landlords may face late or non-arrivals as the university prepares for a delayed and ‘blended’ start and closed ‘air bridges’.
None of this sits well with landlords who must still pay the mortgage on their property and struggling tenants unable to pay their rent and facing homelessness Evictions serve no-one – the landlord is still out-of-pocket, the tenant is homeless and the council faces increased pressure to fulfill its duties under the Homelessness Prevention Act.
Non-eviction rules will be lifted from 24th August, but conscientious landlords will hesitate to turn out good tenants who have hit hard times. What does a good landlord do to preserve their business but recognise the genuine difficulties faced by tenants?
Here is some advice from the Labour Housing Policy Group in Guildford:
- Be prepared to waive, reduce, defer or ‘accrue’ deposits by collecting them gradually over the initial months of a new contract. What you are able to agree will depend on your circumstances and those of the tenant.
- Some tenants will find themselves unemployed for the first time, and they will never have experienced the benefits system before, never have had to cope with debt before and never had to negotiate a solution with their landlord before. It will help your tenant meet their rent payments if they claim benefits they are entitled to. You can help by quickly directing tenants to people who can give them constructive advice. Citizens Advice and Shelter are two excellent resources for tenants in difficulties.
- Where you have allowed existing tenants to defer payment because they had reduced wages during Covid, but who, for the same reason, cannot muster the back-payment, arrange repayment over a longer period by adding gradual payment onto the rent over, say, 6-9 months. A tenant who is perpetually in debt is a poor payer: it can be a better investment to waive or reduce ‘Covid rents’ to help tenants back into solvency for subsequent payments. Remember, the amount they are to repay must be realistic, if it is set too high, they will not be able to keep the payments up.
- Discuss repayments reasonably and be clear with tenants. Not all tenants are skilled in negotiation and you should make allowance for this.
- Be prepared to follow the Pre-Action Protocol for Possession Claims. it is good practice to negotiate with your tenant and avoid eviction. Where you would prefer to negotiate at arm’s length, consider using the Property Redress Scheme Tenancy Mediation Service.
- If you have tenant turnover, remember to give your property a thorough deep clean in the light of the viral threat and leave bleach-based cleaning materials in the property.
- Times of financial insecurity are incredibly stressful, so try to be understanding, even if you feel stressed and anxious yourself.