'Council tenants should not be evicted for rent arrears during pandemic' - councillor pushes for change
A city councillor is demanding that the local authority halts all council tenant evictions for rent arrears, after a string of cases were brought to Sheriff court.
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Chas Booth has tabled a motion ahead of a City of Edinburgh Council meeting next week calling for the immediate suspension of all cases where tenants are facing eviction.
The Green councillor for Leith is also requesting that no action is taken to initiate new eviction proceedings for council tenants in rent arrears.
It comes after the Evening News revealed people from nine council homes were called into Edinburgh Sheriff Court on June 4 for rent arrears, sparking fresh calls for an extension of a temporary ban brought in during Covid-19 level 3 and 4 restrictions.
Campaigners have branded it ‘ludicrous’ that tenants could be evicted for rent arrears during the pandemic.
Cllr Booth, Edinburgh Greens' spokesperson on housing, believes a ban should be made city council policy.
He said: "The council simply should not be threatening tenants with eviction in the current circumstances.
"The last year has been hard on all of us, but it has had a devastating impact on those on the lowest incomes, including many of the council's tenants. To threaten legal action to make people homeless in such circumstances and to add to people's worry at what is already a massively stressful time is not appropriate. The council should be offering help and support to tenants who are behind with their rent instead.”
He added: "They have said they are not seeking a decree to progress evictions at this time. But officers couldn't answer me when I asked if this was policy or at their discretion.
"No tenants, council or private, should be threatened with eviction for rent arrears at the moment. It is far more costly for the council to evict people. And we know Edinburgh is one of the worst councils for putting people in unsuitable accommodation.
"My Green MSP colleagues were successful in introducing a moratorium on evictions during Covid, and I know they are pressing the Scottish Government to continue to offer protection to tenants in this regard."
Politicians have backed calls to halt evictions warning they are ‘heavy handed’ and will push people into homelessness while the city’s temporary accommodation and services are already stretched.
Since March 2021, the council has served 20 eviction notices and an order has been granted by the Sheriff in eight cases since the court reopened, meaning officers can be sent to remove people from their homes.
The council has a new multi-disciplinary engagement team dealing with these cases which they claim has been ‘very successful’.
A city council spokesperson said: “Although 40 per cent of tenants are in arrears, the number of cases where a notice is served represents 0.125 per cent of council tenancies. We consider this only to be a very last resort, used to prompt engagement with tenants who have accrued a very high level of arrears to prevent them falling further into debt.”