Ministers have extended the ban on landlords evicting tenants in England and Wales until 20 September, following fears thousands could lose their homes.
In most cases, until the end of March, renters will also get six months’ notice if their landlord plans to evict them.
Courts had been due to resume cases on Monday after a five-month pause.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the latest announcement just gave “renters a few more weeks to pack their bags”.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said he was “supporting renters over winter” amid the ongoing effects of the coronavirus outbreak adding that, when the ban was lifted, the most serious cases of anti-social behaviour, other crimes, and unpaid rent for over a year would be heard first.
One landlords’ group described the blanket extension as “unacceptable”.
Before the pandemic, notice of eviction was usually two months. In Wales, that had already been extended to six until the end of September and remains under review.
In Scotland, a proposal for six months of notice until March requires approval from the Scottish Parliament, and laws in Northern Ireland include a 12-week notice period.
A survey by homelessness charity Shelter suggested that more than 170,000 private tenants have been threatened with eviction by their landlord or letting agent, and 230,000 in England have fallen into arrears since the pandemic started.
Health bodies had warned that homelessness or moves that resulted in people living in overcrowded accommodation could risk higher numbers of Covid-19 infections. Politicians have now called for more than the latest extension to the ban.
Labour’s leader, Sir Keir, said “Such a brief extension means there is a real risk that this will simply give renters a few more weeks to pack their bags.”
Who does it affect?
The ban on tenant evictions was controversial when it was brought in, as it was seen as being less generous towards renters than the three-month mortgage payments holiday introduced for homeowners.
The mortgage payment holiday enabled homeowners to suspend payments for up to three months. Meanwhile, the eviction ban meant tenants could not lose their home, but it did not offer them any breathing space on paying their rent.
Housing charity Shelter estimates that 442,000 people in private rental accommodation are in rent arrears, nearly half of whom fell behind with their payments since the start of the pandemic.
It said 174,000 private tenants had already been threatened with eviction, despite the ban still being in place.
What should I do if I can’t pay my rent?
It is important to talk to your landlord as soon as possible if you’re struggling to pay your rent.
The government included buy-to-let landlords in the mortgage payment holiday scheme on the understanding that they would pass on the benefit to tenants who were facing financial difficulties.
If you can still afford to pay some of your rent, ask your landlord if they would accept a reduced payment for a period of time, particularly if you think you will be able to make up the shortfall once your finances have recovered.
It would also be worth checking to see if there are any government benefits, such as universal credit, that you might be eligible for if your income has fallen.
What are my rights as a tenant?
It is illegal for a landlord to evict you without giving you written notice or obtaining a court order. They are also not allowed to harass you or lock you out of your home, even temporarily.
If you are in an assured shorthold tenancy, the most common type of tenancy, they can start the eviction procedure through giving you either a section 21 or section 8 notice.
Your landlord does not need to give a reason to evict you under a section 21 notice, but they must give you a warning period. This period was previously two months, but it has been extended because of the coronavirus pandemic.
If you do not leave the property at the end of this period, your landlord must go to court to evict you legally.
You cannot be issued with a section 21 notice during the first four months of your original contract.
Landlords can only issue a section 8 notice if they have legal grounds to end your tenancy, for example if you are in rent arrears. They must apply to a court for a possession order to evict you.
Prior to the eviction ban, the notice period varied, depending on the grounds for possession.