Thousands of renters across the country are facing potential homelessness as the government’s eviction ban lifts in a matter of days.
As many people’s incomes plummeted at the start of the crisis it quickly became clear that renters needed protection from eviction – especially as banks responded to the crisis by offering mortgage holidays which benefitted many landlords.
After a period of uncertainty, the government set out plans for a block on evictions in March – which was set to last until the end of June. When charities warned that its end could result in a sudden cliff-edge for renters facing homelessness, it was extended until August 23.
This time, however, there is no such such extension on the horizon.
Landlords have still been able to issue Section 21 notices, but nobody could be forced out of their home throughout lockdown as the courts remained closed. It means that some tenants – whether they have fallen into arrears or not – have spent months knowing they will eventually be made homeless.
Despite working as a carer in a residential home throughout the Covid-19 crisis Ali Almeamari, 29, from Bristol, and his housemates were served a Section 21 and must find a new place to live by September 17.
They were given notice of their eviction several months ago, after a dispute over a leak at the property led to them notifying the council about their landlord’s conduct, but have been able to remain in their home until now as a result of the ban on evictions throughout the Covid-19 crisis.
He said: “This has been literal hell for us, two of us are carers and we’ve had issues with the bathroom. The upstairs bathroom doesn’t work any more, which the landlord tried to fix by doing the downstairs shower which you can barely fit in – we need to shower every day before and after work.
“With the stress of trying to find a new place during a pandemic and all going backwards and forwards with his lawyers – we couldn’t have got through it without Acorn, I don’t know what we would have done.”
Without access to housing, and the shower facilities he needs for work, Ali may be forced to take leave while he searches for a new home in Bristol’s already intensely competitive rental market.
He said: “It’s just been so stressful, we can barely sleep. We don’t have much time to look for a new place and there are so many people in the same boat, it’s a very sad situation.
“It’s just absolutely horrible that this is happening on top of everything else.”
According to figures collected by YouGov, on behalf of housing charity Shelter, some 230,000 private tenants across the country have fallen into rent arrears since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, with almost half a million in arrears in total.
Small business owner Daniela and her partner James, a freelance musician, have also been served with a Section 21 notice and told that they must vacate their Liverpool home by September 7.
Their income has dropped drastically as a result of lockdown and, despite trying to speak openly with the agency and landlord about their financial situation, were told of their impending eviction with no warning in June.
“If we don’t have the means to pay the rent then we’re not going to be able to afford a big move,” Daniela explained. “I don’t really know what they expected when we told them we were in a bad place financially. Unfortunately they can do pretty much whatever they want, the law is on their side.
“We can’t leave on the expected date, it’s not safe to even look for a house at the moment and rents are up so it’s really difficult.”
Unable to move, Daniela and James are expecting to face further legal action after September 7, at which point courts will once again be reopened allowing landlords to repossess their property via a repossession order.
Beyond seeking free legal advice from several renters organisations, they have been unable to prepare for the impending upheaval. They’re unsure about how courts could process repossession orders amid the pressures of Covid-19, and so have no idea if they will be made homeless in the coming weeks or months.
“Almost the worst part is not knowing,” Daniela said. “It’s already stressful enough as it is, September 7 is creeping up on us, and we still don’t know if we’re going to be homeless in one, two, three months.
“It’s really a disgrace that the landlord and the agency could agree to do such a thing during a pandemic.”
Beyond the practical concerns of being forced out of their home during Covid-19, Daniela and James have also been left dealing with the emotional and mental toll of the situation.
She said: “It’s anxiety-inducing, any person would be upset and distressed – it’s very hard to even put it into words at the moment.
“All I can do is try to focus on my business, but August is the slowest month of the year and sales have been quite low. My partner is also at home and looking for work, but there are so few jobs out there at the moment. We’ve tried to apply for help, but we’re not really eligible for anything.
“We want to leave as soon as possible, but we want to do it within our terms and when it’s safe, and when we can afford to. It’s been absolutely exhausting, and we’re at this point through no fault of our own.”
Renters union Acorn has launched the Housing is Health campaign in response to the crisis sparked by Covid-19. Itcovers six key demands; a permanent Section 21 eviction ban, rent waiver for the duration of the crisis, the cancellation of current evictions, government protection for mortgage holders to prevent renters from being evicted, equality for lodgers and an extension to the current eviction ban.
In Scotland the ban on evictions has been extended for another six months, and campaigners are urging leaders in the UK to take similar steps to prevent a sharp increase in homelessness.
Aidan Cassidy, Acorn’s branch organiser in Bristol, told HuffPost UK: “Getting evicted in the middle of a pandemic is a health issue as well as a housing issue.
“We’ve even heard cases of health workers being evicted during a global pandemic by their live-in landlords. One of our members who is a health worker recently told me that her landlady was out clapping for her at 8pm on a Thursday and then the next day told her she had to be out in seven days.
“We’ve seen a massive uptick in people coming to us through the crisis for help, and our membership has really grown. We’re already working around the clock to make sure our members are defended, and that’s not going to ease up any time soon.”