The Government has extended the moratorium on evictions by a further two months.
It was brought in at the start of the Covid crisis to protect tenants in the social and private rented sector. With so many people losing their jobs and unable to earn the last thing the country needs is an epidemic of homelessness.
However, there are those who believe that the ban is unjust — a very unTory violation of property rights. Among them is Rosalind Beck writing for CapX:
Housing is a necessity, but so is food. Why, then, are the supermarkets treated one way and the landlords another?
It’s a seemingly strong argument (and furthermore Beck makes some good points about the details of the policy). However, the analogy — that between housing and food — is flawed.
For a start, most people have a choice of food suppliers, whereas moving home was banned in the first stage of the lockdown and is still difficult now. Even in ideal conditions, finding a new place to live is a drawn out, expensive and stressful process. Landlords have market power over tenants in a way that shops don’t have over shoppers.
Even more importantly, food is a consumable and housing isn’t. Eat an apple and it’s gone for ever; live in a flat and it’s still there when you move out. This is a fundamental difference — and a reason why payment can be reasonably deferred on the latter, but not the former.
Also it’s worth pointing out that, despite lockdown, a food item retains its value — an apple contains as many nutrients and as much flavour as it did before the pandemic. That’s not the case with housing whose value is, in large part, determined by location. The reason why the rent on a flat in central London is a multiple of a similar property elsewhere is the difference in access to earning opportunities and amenities. But when that access — however good or bad — is reduced to lockdown levels, the value of the location is correspondingly reduced.
In normal times we’d expect the property market to adjust to variations in the attractiveness of each location and shift property prices accordingly. In any area where jobs and other opportunities disappeared, rental values would collapse. Just because these are not normal times and the economic shock is too deep, sudden and widespread for the pricing mechanism of the market to process, it doesn’t mean that landlords should expect to make as much money today as they did before the crisis.
Covid is not their fault, but it’s not their tenants’ fault either.