In our latest guest blog, Laura Quenault, Service Manager at Citizens Advice Jersey, talks us through new housing legislation created to protect those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
To protect tenants from becoming homeless during the pandemic, emergency housing legislation was approved by the States Assembly. From 10 April until at least 30 September, landlords in Jersey cannot seek to evict, pursue rent arrears, increase rents or end tenancies.
The legislation was introduced to prevent further financial hardship to those affected by the pandemic and has been a lifeline to tenants who have lost their jobs or seen a significant reduction in their income. Having this safety net has relieved what may have otherwise been an even more stressful time.
We have been advising tenants to pay as much of their rent as they can and communicate with their landlord if they foresee a shortfall. Landlords have been asked to act reasonably and contact their mortgage providers to arrange mortgage holidays if necessary.
While most landlords have been fair, some have ignored the legislation and attempted to increase rents or issued notices to vacate. We are grateful to be able to give their tenants the good news that it is not enforceable. No landlords have gone as far as to make formal claims for evictions or rent arrears. The Petty Debts Court have received no new claims for these matters since the legislation was approved.
While most tenants have communicated well with their landlords, we have seen an increase in enquiries from landlords struggling with the behaviour of their tenants. We have seen a power shift in this respect.
The legislation was brought forward with the intention to protect those affected by the pandemic, but in practice it gives blanket protection to all tenants in all circumstances. The legislation states that tenants must demonstrate their financial hardship to their landlords when asked, however there is no way to enforce this. Some tenants have misinterpreted the legislation, wilfully or otherwise, and have failed to pay rent that they could afford to pay. Some tenants have broken other terms of their lease. Their landlords can do no more than notify them that the breach has occurred and ask that it is rectified. The Petty Debts Court will take all of this into consideration when they hear the claim after 30 September, but that is little help to landlords now.
The vast majority of landlords and tenants have followed the guidance and worked together to agree on reduced rents now followed by repayment plans later. Most landlords want to keep good tenants and are understanding of their circumstances when there is clear communication.
The most important aim of the legislation is to keep a roof over peoples’ heads and that has been achieved.