Relying on landlords’ compassion to reduce rents is not working, research claims

The proportion of landlords granting rent reductions for struggling tenants that they will not need to pay back is being outnumbered eight-to-one by those refusing to allow any flexibility, a survey of renters suggests.

While 7% of struggling renters who asked their landlord for a lower rent secured one which does not need to be repaid, eight times this percentage, at 56%, were asked to pay in full, campaign group Generation Rent said.

A quarter (25%) of those with dented incomes who asked for a rent reduction had secured a temporary cut which they would need to pay back at a later date.

And one in eight (12%) who were struggling and had asked for a rent reduction said they were awaiting a response.

But the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) said it would be wrong to claim the majority of landlords are failing to support tenants needing help.

It said a yet-to-be published study by the NRLA of over 4,500 landlords found 90% who received a request for support from a tenant responded positively.

The help given included a rent reduction or deferral, a rent-free period, early release from a tenancy or a refund on service charges included in rents for homes of multiple occupation.

Of the landlords surveyed in the NRLA’s study, 44% had been asked for help by at least one tenant.

In March, the Government announced a package of measures to protect renters and landlords during the coronavirus outbreak.

It said landlords would not be able to start proceedings to evict tenants for at least a three-month period. And to relieve some of the pressure on landlords, they can apply for three-month mortgage payment holidays.

With mortgage payment holidays, the money that would have been repaid during the period is still owed when the holiday comes to an end and interest continues to build up.

Generation Rent said the Government should renew the suspension of evictions to stop renters losing their homes for arrears that arise under the pandemic.

Its survey of more than 1,500 people found more than half (56%) of renters said they had lost income since the lockdown started.

The Generation Rent survey, carried out between April 22 and 30, also suggested that private renters with reduced incomes who had asked their landlord for a lower rent were much more likely to feel very worried about eviction (50%) compared with those who had not approached their landlord (30%).

Generation Rent is calling for the removal of rent arrears built up during the pandemic as grounds for eviction. It also said mortgage lenders should require buy-to-let landlords with a mortgage holiday on their payments to pass this on to their tenants. It also wants a freeze on rent increases for 12 months.

Dan Wilson Craw, director of Generation Rent, said: “Relying on landlords’ compassion isn’t working.

“If the Government lifts restrictions without providing new protections, millions of renters will face losing their home and we will compound a public health crisis with a homelessness crisis.”

Ben Beadle, chief executive of the NRLA, said: “Whilst many tenants have been able to continue paying their rents in full and on time, in accordance with Government advice, we recognise the strain that many others are under at this difficult time. That is why it is good news that, as our research shows, nearly all the landlords approached for help by their tenants are responding positively.

“With no direct support aside from a mortgage deferment, landlords are playing their part to avoid unnecessary anxiety for tenants and our figures show that the vast majority of tenants and landlords have a good relationship with each other.”

The NRLA said cases where landlords have been seeking to support tenants include a Manchester landlord who has established a WhatsApp group so her tenants can easily keep in touch. She has sent them care packages with food.

Another landlord in Twickenham, London, pro-actively contacted his tenants before the lockdown encouraging them to get in touch if they needed support. For some tenants, he has agreed to a proportion of rents and, or, arrears to be deferred, the NRLA said.

It added that other landlords have offered accommodation free or at a reduced rent to people working in the NHS while others are supporting vulnerable tenants.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Shelter has already received a flood of calls from renters, scared of losing their home when the eviction ban lifts.

“Expecting them all to rely on the kindness of landlords is not an acceptable safety net. Not least when the roof over their heads is on the line.”

A Government spokeswoman said: “Emergency legislation is now in place so no renter can be forced out of their home during this difficult time – landlords cannot evict for at least three months. We will keep this under review and can extend if necessary.

“We are also supporting businesses to continue paying their staff, investing £7 billion in the welfare system and increasing Local Housing Allowance, which will help tenants pay their rent.

“We continue to urge any tenants who may be experiencing problems to contact their landlord at the earliest opportunity and for parties to reach an agreement if there are issues with payment.”

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