Housing possession proceedings suspended for 90 days due to Coronavirus

Brought in on 26 March 2020, the Government has introduced a temporary measure and series of changes and restrictions on landlords regaining possession of their properties, in order to protect tenants from being evicted during the Covid-19 pandemic.

From 27 March 2020, all ongoing housing possession actions have been suspended for a period of 90 days. This means that neither cases currently in the court, or any about to go in the system can progress to the stage where someone could be evicted. In practical terms, this means that a landlord will not be able to obtain a possession order or enforce a possession order through a bailiff until the end of June 2020 at the earliest. There is also provision for this period to be extended if the need arises. At present, these rules continue until 30th September 2020.

The suspension of possession proceedings was brought in due to the inconsistent approach courts were taking during the Covid-19 pandemic. Some courts had decided to adjourn cases for 3 months and other courts had only adjourned for a few days or weeks meaning, solicitors and their clients had to risk their health to attend court.

What if I already had a claim in the system?

If you already had a claim in the system, the court will simply stay the position until the end of the 90 days. Once the 90 days have ended (provided they are not extended) your case will be picked up from where it was before the proceedings were suspended.

This measure applies to:
• All tenancies in the private and social sector including ‘non-secure’ tenancies used for temporary accommodation
• Mortgage possession claims against homeowners
• Various less formal renters such as property guardians or employment accommodation.

The legislation only applies to tenants and so will not provide protection to licencees to occupy unless those licensees have the benefit of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977.

What do the new measures mean for Landlords?

• New notice periods – The suspension follows a temporary new law that has been passed which states landlords must give renters three months’ notice (instead of two) if they intend to seek possession of the property. This means the Landlord cannot apply to start the court proceedings until the three month period is up. You should be aware that if you intend to serve a notice, there are new government prescribed forms which you should be aware of.

During this period landlords remain legally obligated to ensure their properties meet the required legal standard although where non-urgent repairs are required, the government has encouraged landlords and tenants to take a common sense approach to non-urgent issues which should be deferred. Local authorities are also encouraged to take a more relaxed approach to enforcement of these types of repairs.

• Pre-action protocol – Landlords in the private section need to now follow the pre-action protocol that applies to social landlords. The protocol can be found here.

Does the tenant still need to continue to pay the rent?

Tenants are still liable for rent and will still have to pay this as usual. If they are unable to pay their rent they should speak to their landlord, who have been urged to work with the tenant in this unprecedented time to put a rent payment scheme in place. The government has also made a provision for those who have a buy-to-let mortgage to benefit from a three month mortgage payment holiday should their tenant not be able to pay the rent. Most tenancy agreements do provide for the payment of interest in the event of default and late payment and landlords can exercise this clause when recovering rent arrears.

These measures have been welcomed by all private and social renters, who have been provided with some much needed protection from eviction during this crisis. However, these measures do bring some concerns that landlords should prepare for:

• Increased rent arrears – although tenants are still liable for their rent many tenants may have lost their employment or have been temporarily laid off. In addition, problem tenants who landlords had started proceedings against for non-payment of rent will now be allowed to stay in the property and it is likely they will continue not to pay rent.

• Limited powers to tackle anti-social behaviour – Landlords may still be able to apply for an injunction against a tenant. However, the question of how these injunctions will be enforced remains unclear and therefore there is insufficient protection for the landlord for anti-social and criminal tenants.

• Deterioration of properties – if deterioration is the ground for possession and since possession proceedings are not possible, properties could suffer more damage and therefore need more repairs. The government’s social distancing policy makes this difficult and you venture into the “grey” area of what constitutes essential repairs.

• Unable to evict real problem tenants – There are also concerns that landlords who have valid reasons to want to evict their tenants will be unable to do so because of this blanket suspension. This is particularly the case where notices to terminate a tenancy were served for legitimate reasons before the current pandemic.

Hopefully, in the coming weeks, the government can provide more clarity for both landlords and tenants.

If you would like any advice on the contents of this article, please do not hesitate to contact Sangita Manek on 01923 725004 or at [email protected]