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‘Suspend rent during Covid-19 pandemic’

Tenant unions warn many still at work despite health advice due to fear of missing payments

CAMPAIGNERS called for the suspension of rents today, arguing that government inaction will force people to keep working and put the public at risk.

Failure to take action on rent leads people to ignore public-health advice and go out to work because of pressure from landlords, London Renters Union (LRU) said.

This means they are unable to follow lockdown rules, increasing the risk of spreading the virus and putting further strain on the NHS.

And tenants’ union Acorn warned that some 20 million renters in Britain will suffer under the crisis if eviction laws are not permanently addressed.

LRU, which represents thousands of renters in the capital, wrote to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick today, calling on the government to suspend all rent payments immediately to protect public health and to avoid a major eviction and rent-arrears crisis once the lockdown ends.

The letter, which follows a petition calling for rent suspension reaching 100,000 signatures, warned that many renters are not eligible for significant government income support beyond statutory sick pay.

Among those entitled to receive 80 per cent of their incomes as a result of the new government subsidy schemes, many already spend 60 or even 70 per cent of their income on rent and have little left over for food and other essentials, the letter said.

LRU member Nathan, who did not want to give a last name, said work opportunities for him vanished overnight as a self-employed worker. As he had no savings, he contacted his landlord to ask for a rent freeze.

Nathan said: “He has been extremely unsympathetic, saying that I signed a contract and he expects me to pay in full. He hasn’t mentioned eviction yet but I’m scared that it will be on the table as soon as the temporary ban ends.”

LRU’s Amina Gichinga said: “Despite the declaration of a global pandemic, we’ve heard from hundreds of our members that their landlords are telling them the rent is due in full this week.

“The government needs to take action to suspend all rent payments to protect public health and prevent a rent-debt crisis.”

Acorn national organiser Nick Ballard told the Star that the tenants’ union is currently petitioning the government to immediately and permanently end Section 21 evictions, whereby landlords can serve notice on assured shorthold tenants without providing a reason.

Mr Ballard said: “We were fighting for a ban during the crisis, which the government has now committed to; but as soon as these temporary restrictions are lifted, landlords will take advantage to evict tenants over rent arrears.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Tory government and its predecessor both committed to end evictions under this law, but haven’t done so.

He added that any eviction proceedings begun before the crisis had been put on hold but said that the union is calling for them to be scrapped, not paused. “Otherwise landlords will start from scratch once the emergency is over and tenants will be evicted,” Mr Ballard said. “People need a lot more security than that.”

Acorn is also calling for a rent waiver for the duration of the coronavirus crisis through an amendment to the Section 8 of the Housing Act so that any arrears accrued during lockdown cannot be included in any future grounds for eviction.

Mr Ballard said: “Tenants generally have lower incomes than homeowners. And with people now losing their jobs or receiving partial wages, they can’t pay their rent.

“For landlords it is the difference of a few hundred pounds: but for tenants it is the difference between being homeless or not.”

Under the new government rules, landlords cannot start proceedings to evict tenants for at least a three-month period.

Gordon Maloney from tenants’ union Living Rent said: “It is right that the government has banned evictions — but they are yet to offer tenants any support with actually paying rents.”

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