Our landlords should do more to help those affected by Coronavirus

Our three main landlords not making enough effort to help people who may be in financial difficulty because of the Coronavirus

Optivo and Notting Hill simply say “If you’re in a situation where you’re worried about paying your rent, please get in touch with us immediately”. Metropolitan says “We will not commence any new proceedings or evictions against anyone in arrears or financial hardship caused by the Coronavirus for at least three months”, but this is little more than what’s legally required

(UPDATE: We’ve now heard more from Metropolitan and Optivo. Metropolitan says “We will not commence any new proceedings or evictions against anyone in arrears or financial hardship caused by Covid-19 for at least three months … There is a range of help available, including delayed payment plans”. Optivo says “our Income team are happy to discuss rent payments with our residents”. If you do contact your landlord please also contact the London Renters Union so we can hold them to account)

We think there should be a option to defer rent or service charge payments until this crisis has resolved and have written to our landlords to say so

It doesn’t need me to explain the calamitous and potentially catastrophic effect on ordinary people that the Coronavirus is having. No-one disputes that the economic effect of this global pandemic will be profound, profound on a scale unseen in our lifetimes that we can barely imagine. It is the poorest in our society that will be hit, and are being hit, the hardest, the very people who live on St Martins Estate.

Put simply, if someone cannot work, they cannot earn and therefore cannot pay bills. Recent government initiatives will, in part, alleviate the problem but even in a best possible case, it still means a 20% drop in their income. Many of course will fall far below that, either through irregular working patterns such as zero hours contracts or working in the ‘gig economy’. 80% of very little is even less again.

Others, through economic desperation, may be forced into work that is potentially dangerous and liable to carry infection, thereby putting themselves at risk, their partners at risk, their children at risk and their community at risk – all out of desperation to pay a few bills.

We in the Residents’ Association, wishing to protect our community from the ravages ahead, are doing what we can to help people through “the worst of times”. And this is where you can help. While we acknowledge and appreciate the assistance you are offering in this matter, we would like to see you go further. Bear in mind that some may feel too proud to ask for help, particularly if it is up to them to make the first move. Fearful of the stigma and the embarrassment of negotiation, they might prefer to “struggle on”, forcing them into the very dangerous situations outlined above. To counter this, we would like to see you offer a clear deferment option as a matter of policy on all rent and service charges for all those who are financially struggling for the duration of this dreadful crisis.

Specifically, we suggest, you offer the following:
* an assurance that, except in the case of criminal wrongdoing, no possession orders will be enforced or new court action started against any resident failing to pay rent or service charge while this crisis lasts.
* all residents are offered the clear option of deferring rent or service charge payments either in part or in whole for the duration of the crisis
* easy, interest free repayments, are offered to those choose to avail themselves of this option.

By relieving members of the community of the stress and worry of having to pay these bills in peculiarly stretched times, times that no-one could have predicted, some otherwise bleak lives can be made a little better, a little happier and a little more optimistic, strengthening the community for the real challenges ahead. A happy community is in all our interests – and yours.

I’m sure you’d agree that what we’ve proposed is the best way forward and if we can help you in implementing this measure in these locked down times, please contact us.

Thank you for your attention and if we work together through this real time of national crisis, we will all come out stronger on the other side.

The London Tenants Federation has issued a very similar statement

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