Get the latest on coronavirus. Sign up to the Daily Brief for news, explainers, how-tos, opinion and more.
Landlords are throwing renters out of their homes during the coronavirus pandemic despite the ban on evictions, a renters’ union has claimed.
Evictions have been suspended since the beginning of lockdown, and on Friday the government announced it would extend the ban until September 20 in an “11th hour U-turn” that has been welcomed by Labour.
But while landlords have been urged to “show compassion” to renters struggling to pay rent, London Renters Union organiser, Amina, argues it has not been enough. “Compassion doesn’t equal rights for renters,” she told HuffPost UK.
Amina is currently working with three separate renters who were illegally evicted during the pandemic under “really horrible circumstances”, but there are “definitely many, many more” people in similar situations across the country.
One member says she was forced out of her east London home in June – right in the midst of lockdown – after her request to pay rent electronically was denied and her landlord became “really aggressive”.
After trying to forcefully remove her on two occasions, Amina said, the landlord managed to convince the police his tenant was a lodger and as such could be evicted without a possession order. Faced with the threat of arrest, the renter found herself forced onto the streets. To date, her possessions remain in the house.
Amina described another even more shocking case in which a family was violently removed from their home by the landlord and his friends.
“The landlord didn’t want them to be there any more; he just wanted them out so he used physical force to remove them. Understandably, the family is traumatised by this experience.”
She added that people from Black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities were particularly at risk of being taken advantage of. “Black and brown people are going to be hit harder by this crisis,” she added.
“Racist policies such as ‘right to rent’ have created a hostile environment and the perfect conditions for landlords to exploit tenants who are under undocumented or who have a precarious immigration status.”
The month-long reprieve will offer little relief to people who are facing homelessness and eviction, and Amina believes it could even act as a green light for landlords itching to force people out. “The delays have completely empowered landlords to take the situation in their own hands,” she said.
“Just this morning we had 10 members of our Lewisham branch out there in Elephant and Castle outside a person’s home resisting eviction, and so estate agent backed off straightaway.”
About 18,000 households across England have become legally homeless during the pandemic despite the nationwide ban on evictions, according to a report in the New Statesman. Those numbers include evicted tenants and lodgers, as well as people in short-term accommodation, rough sleepers and victims of domestic abuse.
A separate study conducted by homelessness charity Shelter found nearly 230,000 tenants across England are at risk of eviction once the ban is lifted.
By introducing “extension after extension” to the eviction ban, Amina says the government is merely “kicking the can down the road” instead of offering real support to struggling families – many of whom have been financially impacted by the pandemic.
“Every day I speak to renters who in some cases are having to make the choice between paying for a roof over their head and buying food. Some people have visited the food bank for the first time, which is an incredibly traumatising experience.
“Prior to this pandemic, people in this country were already two paycheques away from being behind on rent. Now each time the ban is extended they are left wondering: ‘Am I going to be evicted? Am I going to be homeless? What does my future look like?’
“A housing crisis existed before this pandemic, but the government has done nothing at all to protect renters. It shouldn’t be the most vulnerable people in our society who have to foot the bill for this pandemic.”