Hackney Council officers are expressing concerns that the deferral of rents and a temporary ban on evictions could result in a “wall of issues” in the weeks to come.
The Town Hall’s director of regeneration James Goddard revealed that the council had only three pieces of casework out of 31,000 private sector households over the past seven weeks, causing concern that lockdown is causing a delayed build-up of woes for tenants.
Goddard was speaking in the same week that the London Renters Union (LRU) launched its Can’t Pay Won’t Pay campaign, encouraging renters, including those recently threatening rent strikes at Somerford Grove in Stoke Newington, to prioritise essential spending over paying their rent.
Goddard said: “We have a Better Renting campaign in Hackney where we expect landlords to meet certain standards. I’ll be straightforward – the government has not been supportive. Their guidance is woolly.
“As a statutory housing authority, we have to adhere to what the government guidance is, but we would expect and we would really like landlords to go beyond that, not just to adhere to the basics.
“Rent deferrals lead to the key issue for us. It’s been really quiet. We’ve had three pieces of casework in the last seven weeks, and there are 31,000 households in the private sector in Hackney. Other boroughs are reporting the same thing.
“Our fear is that in three to four weeks’ time, we could be hit by a wall of issues, such as deferred evictions. That will be a real issue for us, when quite a lot of private sector tenants’ landlords may start putting eviction notices through their letterboxes.”
The ban on evictions imposed by the government is due to lift on 25 June.
According to an April Opinium poll, 43 per cent of renters whose work has been impacted by the pandemic have struggled to make rent or pay for essentials, with a quarter having to leave their homes.
Renters are able to pledge through the LRU campaign to withhold enough of their rent to meet basic needs such as food, with others able to support the campaign in other ways such as receiving training on eviction resistance.
LRU organiser Amina Gichinga said: “During the last election, the government promised a ‘new deal for renters’ but now it is prioritising the profits of landlords over public health and putting renters at huge risk, forcing people of millions to choose between paying rent and buying food.
“Fear of eviction and rent debt is forcing people to go out and work in unsafe conditions.
“We’re heading for a chaotic rent debt and eviction crisis unless the government suspends rent, cancels rent debt and makes the eviction ban permanent.”
Sem Moema, Hackney’s mayoral adviser for private renting, said that while she welcomed the suspension of evictions brought in by the government, she echoed Goddard’s concerns that it simply “delays rather than stops in its tracks” people becoming homeless.
It was reported in April that tenants in Somerford Grove were threatening to go on rent strike after their landlord refused their block discount on payments during the crisis.
Addressing the issue, Cllr Moema said: “One thing I would say is that while politically I would have a lot of sympathy for the position that the people proposing that action took, it would be remiss of us as a local authority and as elected councillors to say to people that they should stop paying their rent.
“That leads to homelessness and adds to the issues that we’re anticipating as a local authority. We don’t want to have more people with the housing needs team in three or six months.
“We need to find a way to work through that before the point that people are being served notices that they can do nothing about.”