The Coronavirus pandemic has been a particularly difficult time for renters. Many renters have lost income over the past year, either through significant periods on furlough, or losing their jobs altogether. Some self-employed people have had difficulty accessing any support at all and have had to burn through their savings to keep afloat. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates 2 ½ million people were worried about paying their rent over the winter, with 700,000 already behind on their rent.
Although the Government has stepped in to prevent evictions for rent arrears for most of the pandemic, the current rules mean that those with more than six months of rent arrears are at risk of losing their home.
If you are in rent arrears, and worried that your landlord will take you to Court to seek your eviction, here are some steps that you can take to put yourself in the best position possible to avoid losing your home.
- Talk to your landlord
Most Landlords are reasonable people who will understand the current circumstances. Explaining your financial difficulties and trying to come to an agreement with them could stop them from issuing a claim at all. If your landlord is a Local Authority or a Housing Association, make sure you also notify them of any health issues that you have or any particular vulnerabilities you may have to COVID-19.
- Check that you are getting the right benefits
Maximise your income. The DWP’s own annual reports suggest that more than £15 billion in benefits that people are entitled to go unclaimed. You may be entitled to more support than you are getting. Check with agencies like the Citizens Advice Bureau or Turn 2 Us to see that you are getting all the support that you can.
- Contact your Local Authority
Call your Council.Councils will have a fund out of which it can make Discretionary Housing Payments to tenants which could help you reduce your arrears. Councils can also take reasonable steps under their Homelessness Prevention Duty, to help people stay in their homes. What is reasonable will differ from case to case but includes things like negotiating with your landlord on your behalf or paying some of your rent arrears for you.
- Pay something towards your rent
If your landlord is trying to evict you using discretionary grounds, the Court will look at whether it is reasonable to make an order in your landlord's favour. Even if you cannot pay the full rent each month, paying whatever you can towards your rent will show a Judge that you are doing everything you can to pay your rent and reduce your debt. A Judge will likely view that in your favour and may be more persuaded to suspend any possession order.
- Check that your Deposit, if you paid one, is protected
Check the documentation that your landlord gave you when you moved in. You should have been told under which Tenancy Deposit Scheme your deposit is protected (if indeed you paid one). If you never received those documents, then you might be able to make a Counterclaim (see below) against your landlord and the compensation received could reduce or eliminate your rent arrears. It could also provide a defence if you receive a Section 21 notice.
If you remember periods where you complained about a broken boiler, defective windows, mould and damp, or similar issues, and your landlord took an unreasonable amount of time to fix those issues, then you might have a Counterclaim for disrepair. If successful, a Counterclaim could reduce or eliminate your rent arrears. Check your emails and your texts and preserve any evidence you think could be useful in proving that you suffered from disrepair.
- Contact a Solicitor
From the moment your Landlord issues you with a Notice, your home is at risk and you could be eligible for Legal Aid (depending on your finances). When you receive a Notice, contact a Solicitor and they will be able to help you negotiate with your Landlord, or begin preparing your defence.
Even if you are not eligible for Legal Aid, you will still be able to get free advice from a duty solicitor before your first hearing (known as a review date).
A Counterclaim is a way of responding to a claim issued by your landlord. If you believe that your landlord has failed to follow the law (e.g. by not protecting your deposit) or has breached the terms of your tenancy agreement (e.g. by not carrying out certain repairs), a Counterclaim will allow the Court to deal with any harm those wrongs have caused at the same time as your landlord's claim against you.
TV Edwards has a team of solicitors with expertise in housing cases. If you are seeking legal advice relating to housing issues, then please contact us on 0203 440 8000 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org to see if we can assist.