This article was produced by Stephanie Pugh from Capital Law. Please note the legislation referred to in this article is no longer in force, but the article remains available for reasons of interest.
Tenants owe a legal duty to their landlord, arising from statute and their tenancy agreement, to pay rent and abide by all other terms of their tenancy, (as do landlords to tenants, to fulfil their legal duties). Whilst it is usually in the parties’ best interests to find resolution to agreement breaches and unpaid rent, where issues are particularly unpleasant and reoccurring, it is common for landlords to want to take the more serious route of eviction.
As we embarked on the year of the pandemic, the world was challenged to reconsider the functioning of society. Jobs were lost, wages were cut and as a result, whilst the slogan of the early pandemic became ‘Stay Home’, many struggled to understand how they could finance the homes they were confined too.
Landlords were urged by the Welsh Government to take a ‘positive,’ ‘proactive’ and ‘supportive’ approach to their role, instructing them to deliver ‘maximum flexibility’ throughout the crisis. Whilst it is arguable landlords were dealt with an unlucky hand, protection for tenants became a necessity, as missed rent payments were an inevitable occurrence and eviction became a threatening consequence.
Such, in reaction by the UK and devolved Governments, the Coronavirus Act 2020 (“The Act”) (and its later amendments) addressed the issue head on.
The Coronavirus Act- Current Provisions
The Act, applying to all landlords who have granted tenancies under the Rent Act 1977 and the Housing Acts 1985, 1988 and 1996 was introduced in March 2020. Through section 81 and Schedule 29 of The Act, the notice periods required for possession proceedings for residential tenancies were extended, with the aim to discourage eviction. The Act imposes a minimum period of six months for notices to be served in respect of all protected tenancies; statutory tenancies; secure tenancies; assured tenancies; assured short hold tenancies; introductory tenancies; and demoted tenancies. There is a due exception to this where those notices relate to eviction or other actions where anti-social behavior, or domestic violence is a known concern
Initially, this was in force until September 2020, but has been continually extended by amendments to The Act as required by the ongoing nature of the pandemic. Currently, such provisions are in force in Wales until the 31st of December 2021, upon which they will again be debated against the current pandemic circumstance.
The Coronavirus Act- A Success Story?
Julie James MS, Minister for Housing at the time the provisions came into force, described them as essential in aiming to ‘increase security and reduce anxiety,’ ensuring ‘fewer people face eviction… with increased time to seek support to resolve any problems.’ The Act has and continues to fulfil these aims.
In reducing the anxiety of losing a home, the Act achieves numerous positive outcomes, from allowing a family to focus on the other issues they may face as a result of the pandemic, to easing the pressure on mental health services that could otherwise be called on due to the emotional and mental stress experienced when potentially losing a home.
Longer notice periods allows additional time for tenants to find more suitable accommodation, increasing the prospects of keeping families and communities together in such a difficult time. The Act has the potential to reduce the number of evictions into homelessness, which aside from the numerous social benefits, will further protect essential health services from ill-health as a result of such, especially as the winter draws in.
The most long-term success, however, is a biproduct of the provisions. This is the encouragement and validation that landlords, tenants, and support agencies can work together to overcome and negotiate agreement issues and missed rent payments. It will expose landlords to helpful agencies, which else they may have ignored, and encourages them to take an interactive approach to tenancy discrepancies that can be continued post-pandemic. Because of this, there should be a strong focus on reinforcing such agencies, listening to the needs of landlords and tenants, and providing a service that proves practical. The local authorities, having always encouraged the kind of mediation that is almost forced by The Act, should use this time to perfect such. If executed correctly, this could result in a lasting change to the stereotypically uncomfortable landlord and tenant relationship.
The Coronavirus Act- The Promise of Security in Post-Lockdown Wales
There is no telling how long the effects of the pandemic will continue, but the Welsh Government’s protective approach to tenants shows no sign of going away. The rules are set to be continually reviewed in light of the circumstances that then apply, liaising with stakeholders, landlords, tenants and their respective bodies. Regular re-visitations of these provisions as the pandemic progresses are essential in order to continue to ease the struggle of those facing financial hardship and to ensure, as acknowledged by the Ministers navigating The Act, there is no gap in the protection given to tenants in such ever changing circumstances.
If you are affected by the financial issues discussed throughout this article, support can be found on the gov.wales website.