Behind Closed Doors: The high number of Brent evictions

Willesden County Court

Willesden County Court - Credit: Google

A high number of private rental tenants in Brent are being evicted due to rent arrears built up during the Covid pandemic.

In March 2020, Secretary of State for Housing Robert Jenrick tweeted: “no one should lose their home as a result of the #coronavirus epidemic”.

But despite urgent warnings at the start of the pandemic nothing was done to address the fact that if a tenant falls behind on two months’ rent, then a judge must grant a possession order, meaning the landlord can move to evict them.

This paper joined the Bureau of Investigative Journalism over the summer to look at the effects of evictions during the pandemic.

Willesden County Court, in Acton Lane, issued 12 "no-fault evictions" in July.

Over three days in during the same month the court issued more than 20 mandatory Ground 8 rent arrear orders where tenants can be evicted if they are behind in payments by two months. 

The analysis of more than 550 rental hearings in England and Wales revealed in the study showed that the vast majority (85%) of possession cases were on mandatory grounds.

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The fall-out from Covid-19 was mentioned in a third of all cases that ended in a possession order.

Judges were powerless to do anything other than order an eviction because the inflexible legal rules left them with no discretion to take individual circumstances into account. 

In one case a tenant, who had vacated the property and was in court, had received notice in February for £9,880 rent arrears.

By July this had ballooned to £16,300.

This was not an isolated case. Another saw their arrears climb from £7,200 to £19,200.

In many cases, the tenant didn't turn up so it took on average just 10 minutes in court for a judge to order an eviction.

Judge Kamala, at Willesden County Court, said often tenants don't come to court but it was always worth doing so as there were duty solicitors available.

He was able to adjourn several cases, including a Section 21 order, but admitted the law was quite "inflexible" with Ground 8 mandatory evictions.

Jacky Peacock, director of Advice for Renters in Willesden Lane, urged private tenants to get in touch.

"Even before the pandemic, Brent was one of the top areas for evictions, and we know that the pandemic has hit Brent residents even harder than most.

"People talk about no-fault evictions and when tenants get section 21 they assume they can do nothing about it.

"But because it's tied up in a whole range of situations where landlords can't use 21, for example, if they haven't protected the deposit or issued the gas safety certificate, we can very often find technical defences which means the case gets dismissed. 

"It at least means the landlords got to start again with another two months notice which gives the tenant time to deal with arrears and things.

"Also, if the landlord is in breach of something we can advise residents about counterclaims and reach a settlement.

"We've had really high levels of arrears written off. One landlord wrote off £12,000 and helped the tenant move.

"We are so frustrated people don't come to us. We can help."

She said evictions were frozen when the pandemic came in.

"From now on a higher percentage of rent arrears will be Covid-related."

A Government spokesperson said: “Our £352 billion support package has helped renters throughout the pandemic and prevented a build-up of rent arrears.

"We also took unprecedented action to help keep people in their homes by extending notice periods and pausing evictions at the height of the pandemic.

“As the economy reopens it is right that these measures are now being lifted and we are delivering a fairer and more effective private rental sector that works for both landlords and tenants.

“We will bring forward further proposals in due course, including the abolition of Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions and further support for landlords where repossession is necessary.”