A housing advice column for all your renting problems from VICE UK columnist Vicky Spratt. Got a burning question? Email [email protected].
My landlord keeps threatening me with eviction. I’m stressed out. My income has fallen. I can’t afford to pay full rent. But I don’t want to end up in debt to… my landlord! I can’t even compute that reality. But I also don’t want to be evicted. I know the evictions ban has been extended but it’s so confusing. What are my rights?
I can help. But before I do, I really, really hope you’re alright. I hear from people in your situation all the time and while I know that’s hardly a consolation, I hope that it lets you know that you’re not alone. Our government stands accused of a litany of egregious failures when it comes to their handling of this pandemic, and how they have failed private renters really ought to be getting more attention.
Private renters are a precarious demographic – there are around 4.6 million households and an estimated 20 million people in this group. Before coronavirus caused the greatest public health crisis in a generation, they were already up against it financially – likely to be in debt because private rents had soared and less likely to have savings than homeowners.
The government promised nobody would lose their homes because of coronavirus, but their actions tell a different story. Homeowners and landlords were given mortgage holidays, but no such measures have materialised for renters falling behind on rent, despite calls from Labour back in May. The stay on eviction proceedings was due to end this week but was extended at the very last minute. Even then, that’s only for another month – a paltry offering given the economy continues to shrivel up.
I’m not surprised you’re stressed. This government hasn’t bothered to take you or the thousands of people in your position into account. But there is good news. Your landlord can’t just chuck you out. Dig in, hold tight and don’t let them pressure you – and don’t let your letting agent pressure you either!
There is a specific legal procedure that must be followed in order for an eviction to be valid. You don’t have to leave as soon as you receive an eviction notice in writing. First, our landlord has to go to court for a possession order and a bailiff’s warrant. Only then can you be forced out, and that takes time – even more so now that when courts eventually do start hearing eviction cases (aka possession proceedings) again, they’ll have to adhere to social distancing and will therefore be able to deal with fewer cases at a time.
First things first: you need to check your tenancy agreement. Make sure you have an assured shorthold tenancy. As an assured shorthold tenant, your landlord could serve you a Section 8 eviction notice if you’re in rent arrears. If you’re not behind on rent but your landlord still wants to evict you, they can give you a Section 21 “no fault” eviction notice. Normally, Shelter housing advisor Billy Sevens notes, “These give you three months before you have to leave your home. Usually this notice period would be shorter, but the government has made temporary changes because of the pandemic.”
Last week, when the evictions ban was extended, the government said they will also be extending notice periods on evictions from three to six months. This buys you and everyone facing the same problems time. Thought, I realise, it does nothing to alleviate the stress of potentially losing your home on top of your income.
The government has advised – but not compelled – landlords to negotiate with renters who have lost their earnings and fallen behind on rent. I know this won’t be easy, but try and speak to your landlord. Explain the situation, say that you want to stay, see if you can agree to a payment plan or a rent reduction. I helped one of my best mates with this recently. She didn’t think she had a hope in hell. Guess what? She got a 50 percent reduction! There’s even a template letter tool on Shelter’s website to help with this.
Finally, as I wrote last time, it’s worth looking into what benefits you’re eligible for. The government has raised (though not enough) Local Housing Allowance, which is how housing benefit is calculated. This is accessible through Universal Credit, and you can use Shelter’s benefits calculator to find out what you might be entitled to. They also have a really helpful online guide to Universal Credit.
I wish I could take this away from you. I’m sorry renters have been failed so terribly in this crisis. I could go on and on about the failings of policy or about the wild political decision to cater to homeowners and landlords above renters, but I know that me being angry won’t help you. So, for now, I’ll just say take great care of yourself.
My girlfriend and I have rented a small two-bedroom cottage which we love, but the landlord seems to think it’s somewhere he can just store furniture he doesn’t want. There are two two-seater sofas taking up over 4.5 square-metres of the living area, where there is also another three-seat sofa.
As we’re relegated to working from home for at least the next year owing to coronavirus, we need to be able to use a realistic portion of the floorspace for work – an impossible prospect under the existing state of things. We cannot fit even one desk in the cottage with its current contents, let alone two.
We are paying £990 a month for what essentially constitutes a space for the landlord to store furniture. The letting agency isn’t helping us. The landlord verbally told us when we viewed the property that he would get rid of the sofas, but now he is insisting that we pay for storage if we want to get rid of it. HELP!
Has your landlord got confused? Does he think he rental property doubles up as a Big Yellow Self Storage locker? Even if you weren’t working from home because of coronavirus, this would still be unacceptable. Your home – which you pay good money for – is not a storage facility for bits of furniture he a) can’t be arsed to get rid of b) is too tight to pay to store himself. Your letting agent is just as bad. They’ve banked their cheque, let the property and now they’ve tapped out.
Coronavirus will change everything, they said. We’re all in this together. Things can only get better. That was, it turns out, a pollyannaish wish. Landlords are still being ridiculous. Letting agents are still being useless. Honestly, this is the kind of stuff that has dragged the name of the private rented sector into the mud. What your landlord’s actions are really saying is: This is my home, I don’t care whether you’re happy, comfortable or feel any sense of ownership over it.” They’re leaving the sofas there as a reminder that they own the home and, by proxy, you. It’s a sad power game.
You must both feel like you’re losing your minds. I am so sorry. In fact, I’m doubly sorry because I’m here to tell you that you’re a bit stuck. There’s no specific bit of legislation that looks at unwanted sofas or wild landlords who think that homes also double up as storage facilities.
Housing law in Wales often differs to England because of devolution. So, I got Billy to check with his colleagues at Shelter Cymru about your situation. Billy says that this does all come down to the verbal agreement with your landlord when you moved in and urges you to “check your tenancy agreement to see if it mentions anything about the landlord storing items in the property”, just in case “there is a clause in the agreement saying the landlord can store items in your home”. If so, I’m afraid you might not have much of an argument for getting them removed.
He adds: “Even if the property is described as ‘fully furnished’, this could also make it difficult for you to challenge the amount of furniture in your home.”
Your landlord may have said they would get rid of the sofas, but because you don’t have it in writing, you’re on a sticky wicket. It is going to be difficult to get them to stay true to their word.
This is the last thing you’re going to want to do, but it’s likely your best bet is negotiating. I never used to believe my mum when she said you “catch more flies with honey”, but she was right. Remind your landlord of their promise and appeal to their humanity. Flatter them if you have to. Try to get inside their head – are they just being stubborn for the sake of it? Is there a way you can make this seem like their idea? Could you do the heavy lifting for them? Could you offer to sell the sofas for an agreed sum and give them all of the money you make?
Billy thinks that last one might work, but warns that “if the landlord does agree to this, make sure you get their agreement in writing, so it doesn’t cause any problems in the future”. Also – landlords and their properties in Wales must be registered, so check this is the case with yours. If not, you might be able to get them legally on another gross failure.