Blog: NRLA makes progress in Wales but battle is not yet over
Tensions in the private rented sector (PRS) caused by coronavirus reached boiling point in recent days, leading the UK Government to extend the stay on evictions by four weeks. As a result, it has left landlords feeling as if they have no allies in politics and that they will continue to be made to bear the costs of bad tenants and share the debt of those that have not had been given the necessary income by government to meet their housing needs.
However, there is a little bit of light to be found in Wales: the Shadow Housing Minister, Mark Isherwood MS, has seen the merits of the NRLA’s argument that landlords are hurting because of the pandemic, many are taking a hit to support their tenants, they’re are being shut out from financial support, and the best way to handle the PRS at this time to ensure both parties are can sustain tenancies fairly.
Considering the hostile environment for landlords that has emerged in recent years, with no care to realise that bad ones make up a tiny minority, it was heartening to read from Mr Isherwood:
“The majority of landlords are individuals who let out one or two properties. Many of these rely on that income for their day to day living expenses or to provide pensions. To drive decent landlords out of the sector and reduce the housing stock available for rent would be detrimental to tenants in the long run.”
Finally! Recognition of the facts and respect for good landlords. We often hear politicians pay lip service to “responsible landlords” but this never materialises in policymaking. Again, reading Mr Isherwood, a Member of the Senedd for North Wales, say the Welsh Government “must end its prejudice against private landlords” shows our messaging is getting through.
We saw similar concerns in a Senedd Committee report that scrutinised the Welsh Government’s snap decision to extend notice periods to six months (three for anti-social behaviour (ASB)) to find it severely impacted the human rights of landlords and questioned the failure to follow due-process.
Mr Isherwood also expressed his agreement with the NRLA proposal of tenant loan to cover arrears. After the extension of the notice period in England until next March, it is essential the UK Government introduce it there. In Wales, we have already been successful in persuading the Welsh Government: the Tenancy Saver Loan will be paid directly to the landlord to cover arrears caused by coronavirus. It will be charged at 1% APR interest and there will be a whole five years to repay.
This is a sustainable and fair settlement as it will keep tenants in their homes without passing on the debt to the landlord or restricting their property rights. With the loan in place, there is even less reason for any further emergency action on evictions since the loan removes the biggest concern – those who have fallen into arrears because of these extraordinary times. It is essential landlords are now able to act swiftly against those with pre-Covid arrears and exhibiting ASB.
This is our next challenge: though the changes in the other British nations make this politically difficult, there is no good reason why the Welsh Government should follow suit with their loan system in place. Courts are prioritising the most egregious cases and are so backed-up with cases it will take months to reach them anyway. That is why the temporarily extended notice periods must be allowed to expire on 30 September and return to the status quo.
For too long, all landlords have been found guilty of the sins of the few. Decisions taken by governments during this crisis will be critical in setting the confidence levels of landlords for years. The eyes of a two million-strong industry are watching.