What rights do you have if you can’t pay your rent during the pandemic?
The government has been urged to introduce “rent holidays” for tenants who struggle financially during the coronavirus pandemic.
Around a fifth of the population rent privately and many will see their incomes hit if they have to take an extended time off work due to illness.
But most renters in the UK are on assured shorthold tenancy agreements which give them less protections than tenants in many other European countries.
Statutory sick pay in the UK is also among the lowest in Europe at just £94.25 per week, meaning some people may find it difficult to pay their rent.
What rights do private renters have?
Private renters, most of whom are on what are known as assured shorthold tenancy agreements, can be evicted at short notice.
A landlord can serve a tenant with a section 8 eviction notice as soon as they are eight weeks behind with rent. Normally, you will then have 14 days’ notice, according to Citizens’ Advice.
A section 21 notice can be served with no need to give a reason. The tenant usually has two months to leave the property.
Landlords may be willing to make arrangements with tenants to delay payments where possible but they are under no obligation to do so.
What should you do?
“If you’re struggling to pay rent, talk to your landlord straight away,” says Rachael Gore, senior housing expert at Citizens Advice.
“You should explain the situation and could ask for more time to pay or ask to catch up any missed payments by instalments. “If you can’t come to an agreement with your landlord, it’s a good idea to pay what you can afford and keep a record of what you offered. You should get advice if you can’t reach an agreement because there is a risk that your landlord might try to evict you.”
A repayment plan means you’ll make smaller payments to your landlord over a longer period of time. You’ll still have to pay everything back – but it could be easier than paying the full amount in one go.
Don’t offer to pay more than you can realistically afford, Citizens Advice says. You could make the problem worse if you can’t keep up with your payments.
Unfortunately, coronavirus has not changed people’s existing housing rights. In most cases, your landlord will have to give you notice and then get a court order in order to make you leave.
If you decide to stay in the property past th notice period your landlord will need to ask a court to order you to leave your home. It is not known how a court would deal with case of renters who have fallen behind because of coronavirus.
When the notice period ends, your landlord can apply for a possession order. They must apply to court within a year of giving you the notice. If they don’t, the notice will expire and the landlord can’t use it.
The court will send you papers which include a form for you to outline your defence, details of the court hearing date and any evidence your landlord has submitted.
After reviewing all of the evidence the court will make a decision on whether or not the eviction can go ahead.
If you have to take time off work and are not paid, or receive sick pay that is less than your usual wages, you might be entitled to claim benefits, or your existing benefits might increase. Seek advice if you currently receive housing benefit or tax credits, for example.
“If you are employed and can’t work at home and you follow NHS guidance to stay at home for 7 or 14 days because of coronavirus you’ll be considered unfit for work,” says Kate Smith, senior benefits expert at Citizens Advice. “You will qualify for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if you usually get it when off work sick.”
“You can’t get SSP if you’re self-employed. If you have paid national insurance contributions regularly for the last couple of years you could qualify for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). The government has said new claimants suffering from coronavirus or required to stay at home can be paid from day one of the absence from work.”
What have landlords said about the situation?
The National Landlord’s Association said: “We understand and sympathise that some tenants may struggle to pay their rent where they are seeing a temporary drop in their income if they can’t work because of the Coronavirus.
In such cases it is essential that they inform their landlord at the earliest opportunity and try to work out future payment arrangements.