Rental market chaos as tenants struggle to pay and 80,000 landlords fear bankruptcy

Linda J. Dodson

The coronavirus crisis has plunged the rental market into turmoil as tenants struggle to pay bills and landlords fear financial ruin.

Property owners are struggling with unexpected costs and are concerned that when the outbreak is over they may be left with rental homes that cannot legally be let.

According to one estimate, as many as 80,000 landlords may be forced to quit the sector.

One in five private tenants face losing their job, and Shelter, the housing charity, has warned that gaps in the social security system could mean renters are in financial trouble long after the pandemic ends.

The Centre for Economics and Business Research, a consultancy, said that the issues facing the rental sector would be “the catalyst of the impending housing crash”.

A report by the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA), seen exclusively by Telegraph Money, shows the scale of issues facing the sector. It warned that many landlords and tenants had fallen through the cracks of government support schemes.

Landlords with a buy-to-let mortgage can claim a payment holiday from their bank and use this saving to support struggling tenants. However, the NRLA said thousands of investors own rental properties outright and thus cannot provide help.

About 28pc of landlords do not have a mortgage, it said, and many of these rely on rental income for their livelihoods or to fund their retirement. In some cases, the crisis has caused this income to fall.

The NRLA said it had received reports of tenants cancelling their rent payments because they wrongly believed they no longer had to pay. It is also concerned renters who have agreed a payment break do not realise they still have to pay back the money.

Landlords with vacant or soon-to-be-empty properties cannot let these to new tenants and will incur council tax and utility bills while empty. A survey by the NRLA of 2,700 landlords found that 41pc had found it hard to cover unexpected costs. In addition, 3pc expected to lose their business because of coronavirus.

According to Hamptons International, the estate agent, there are 2.3 million landlords in Britain, suggesting 79,800 could go bust.

Those landlords who have tried to refinance their properties have limited options. Moneyfacts, the financial analyst, said that more than 1,300 buy-to-let loans have been withdrawn since the crisis began.

The NRLA’s Chris Norris said: “Some landlords may need to sell up as soon as they are able, this only exacerbates the rental supply crisis.”

Mr Norris said that the Scottish government had offered support to landlords without mortgages, but those elsewhere could not benefit.

Shelter has warned 1.7 million private renters in England could lose their jobs in the next three months, equivalent to one in five private tenants.

Many of these people will be forced to turn to the welfare system for the first time, but the housing benefit element of Universal Credit only covers the cost of renting the cheapest 30pc of properties in an area. So renters paying average prices face a shortfall. For a two-bed family property, the gap is as high as £400 a month in England, while the difference is £1,227 in London.

This issue would be alleviated by tenants moving to cheaper properties, but that is not an option during the lockdown. The Government said that it had offered “unprecedented measures to support tenants”.

However, there are new fears that many homes will no longer be in a lettable state when the outbreak ends, as gas, electricity and other safety certificates will have expired.

While engineers are considered key workers, the NRLA said many landlords had found it hard to get works carried out because contractors were reluctant to enter properties or because tenants have coronavirus symptoms.


Are you a tenant having problems with your rent or a landlord affected by the coronavirus crisis? Share your experience in the comments section.


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