Phil Spencer: Agents can help ensure court evictions remain a last resort

7 September 2020 | Renting

Last month, we were all caught by the surprise news that the government was extending the temporary ban on evictions just a few days before it was due to be lifted.

Following news of the extension, which runs until September 20, the government also announced that from August 29, landlords must provide at least six months’ notice before seeking possession of a property through the courts unless it is for an issue such as anti-social behaviour, domestic abuse or six months’ accumulated rent arrears.

Meanwhile, when evictions resume in courts later this month, landlords seeking possession will have to provide additional information about their tenant’s circumstances, including how they have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Although it was designed to protect tenants during an uncertain period, the eviction ban has posed many challenges for letting agents and landlords.

Seeking possession through the courts should always be viewed as a last resort and there are plenty of steps that can be taken to handle tenancy issues before they escalate.

Avoiding a court eviction is usually in the interests of both landlords and renters, so what can letting agents do to facilitate harmonious tenancies?

Communicate, communicate, communicate

When times get tough, having an existing relationship in place can reduce the chances of landlords needing to pursue an eviction.

Communication is and always will be the key to a healthy tenancy. Finding out about a tenant’s circumstances can help you to put necessary measures in place.

If a renter trusts their agent and landlord, they are more likely to come to you with a problem, meaning you won’t be left in the dark. Speaking informally is a great way of building relationships with tenants, but naturally everything must be followed up in writing.

If agents act as an effective conduit between both sides of the tenancy and inform landlords of problems before they escalate, they can really prove their worth. 

Repayment plans and rent reductions remain useful

At the height of lockdown, many landlords offered tenants rent reductions or organised affordable repayment plans to help them pay back what they owed.

While we may now be starting to see the other side of the pandemic, these measures can still be effective – particularly as the furlough scheme finishes at the end of next month.

Offering renters in arrears the chance to pay back some of what they owe through reduced payments or a repayment plan can help to rebuild trust.

It also means your landlord can start receiving regular income again, rather than getting nothing at all for an extended period before pursuing the expensive and time-consuming court eviction process.

Ensure landlords are aware of new evictions process

As outlined above, the evictions process will be very different when it resumes later this month. It is therefore going to be a vital task for agents to communicate the complexities and differences of the new process to landlords so they know what they are dealing with.

With a huge backlog of cases to be heard, court evictions are likely to take longer than usual, so educating landlords on the latest developments and the options available to them can discourage them from making rash and potentially costly decisions.

Of course, if your landlord is dealing with severe rent arrears, anti-social behaviour or domestic abuse, a court eviction will be a serious consideration and the required notice period will be shorter. However, agents should be working with their clients to find solutions to smaller issues where possible.

Utilise available products and technology

Now is also a good time for agents to think about the technology available and how it can help them to solve problems and allow landlords to feel they don’t have to pursue a court eviction.

Having a digital record of all payments and communications can give you a good idea of how a tenancy is progressing, allowing you to spot trends and potential issues before they escalate.

What’s more, having the information available at your fingertips is useful if you need to provide evidence in the future. There are digital systems which can help you to issue rent reminders and contact tenants through different mediums, which can help you to get a grip on minor rent arrears.

You can also help tenants to manage their own finances by insuring their rental payments and point landlords in the direction of the best rental guarantee products on the market.

The end of the evictions ban will be significant for landlords who have been unable to resolve serious issues for a number of months. However, despite evictions taking place again, agents should continue to work with landlords and tenants to find alternatives.

*Phil Spencer is a presenter, author, businessman and property investor. Phil’s consumer advice platform Move iQ, is a website, YouTube channel and podcast. Each preserve and reflect the same impartiality that consumers trust and base their property moving plans. Coming soon: Move iQ Pro, Phil’s resource to support the property community. Stay tuned ready for launch – sign-up here.

This post has originally been featured in Letting Agent Today.