Freeze rents to avert mass evictions amid pandemic, urges Sadiq Khan

Half a million Londoners could lose homes as eviction ban ends, mayor warns

Tim Wyatt
Wednesday 16 September 2020 16:07 BST
Sadiq Khan has asked for fresh powers from the government to impose a rent freeze
Sadiq Khan has asked for fresh powers from the government to impose a rent freeze (Getty)

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Sadiq Khan has urged the government to freeze rents in London to prevent a surge in Covid-19 evictions.  

The mayor of London has asked to be given the powers to make it against the law for landlords to increase their rent for two years, arguing hundreds of thousands of renters in the capital are at risk of eviction because of the pandemic.  

The ban on evictions imposed at the start of lockdown is due to lapse at the end of this week, giving landlords their first opportunity to force out tenants who may be in rent arrears.  

Research carried out by the Greater London Authority suggests as many as 500,000 private renters were potentially facing eviction notices having been unable to keep up with their rent during lockdown.  

A quarter of the capital’s 2.2m tenants told pollster YouGov they had fallen behind on their rent or were likely to do so because of the pandemic.  

“The end of the furlough scheme means even more renters in the capital are now at risk of pay cuts or losing their job,” Mr Khan said.  

“Yet at every stage of this pandemic, renters have been treated as an afterthought by the government, with protection measures only ever rushed out at the last minute.  

“This uncertainty is causing unnecessary anxiety and stress. If Berlin can freeze rents for five years, there’s no reason London shouldn’t be able to freeze rents for two years in these extraordinary times.”

The mayor argued that until there is a widely available vaccine, the economic crisis caused by Covid-19 will continue, putting renters with poorly-paid or precarious jobs at risk of being made homeless.  

“A rent freeze is only one part of a package of measures renters urgently need from government to ensure no one is forced out onto the streets as a result of this pandemic,” he added.  

Mr Khan’s call was backed by the campaign group Generation Rent, whose director Alicia Kennedy said some landlords had raised the rent during lockdown in an effort to force out tenants they could not legally evict.  

“With the economy in recession and coronavirus cases on the rise, landlords should not be permitted to raise rents and force a tenant into an unwanted move.  

“We're delighted that the Mayor has adopted Generation Rent's proposal for a freeze on rents to ensure tenants are able to stay safely in their homes for the duration of this crisis.”

Although the ban on private evictions is about to end, the government has announced it will extend a separate ban on business evictions until the end of the year.  

Rules introduced earlier this year prevented companies which were struggling because they had to close during the lockdown from being kicked out of their premises.  

They had been due to expire at the end of September, but the Communities secretary Robert Jenrick has now confirmed they will be extended for a further three months, to stave off potential job losses. 

Responding to Mr Khan’s proposal, a spokesperson for Mr Jenrick’s Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said the department had already taken “unprecedented action” by imposing a ban on eviction in the first place and argued controlling rents was the wrong course of action. 

 “We have now gone further by changing the law to increase notice periods to 6 months to help keep people in their homes over the winter months and introducing a ‘winter truce’ on the enforcement of evictions. 

“Together, these measures strike a balance between protecting vulnerable renters and ensuring landlords whose tenants have behaved in illegal or anti-social ways have access to justice – in direct contrast to rent controls which could drive responsible landlords out, reduce investment in high quality housing and ultimately push rents up.”

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