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19th March 2020

COVID-19 – respite for private housing tenants.

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Boris Johnson announced on 18 March that the government would be bringing in emergency legislation to prevent landlords starting possession proceedings for at least a three month period. The measures will protect tenants in private and social housing. In a bid to alleviate concerns on landlords who may not be receiving any rental income, the three month mortgage payment holiday announced earlier in the week will also apply to buy-to-let landlords.

At the end of the three month period the new legislation is expected to require landlords and tenants to work together to establish an affordable repayment plan which takes into account tenants’ individual circumstances. To achieve this, the Pre-action protocol for Possession Claims, which currently applies to all Social landlords bringing possession proceedings, will be widened to apply to private landlords. The protocol requires the landlord to make reasonable attempts to contact the tenant before proceedings are issued in order to discuss their arrears and their cause. Provided a tenant complies with an agreement to pay a reasonable amount towards the arrears (as well as the current rent) the landlord should agree to postpone applying to court for possession.

The government is also expected to issue guidance asking landlords to show compassion and to allow tenants who are affected by this to remain in their homes wherever possible.

Landlords would be well advised to keep in touch with the tenants at an early stage, but should not put tenants under pressure to pay rent where they are experiencing financial difficulties. Any private arrangements about rent payment holidays or any rent reductions should be confirmed in writing.

Landlords should also ensure that they continue to comply with their statutory and contractual duties, including the requirement to keep heating and hot water appliances in good working order. Landlords should seek legal advice where they have any concerns about entering into a property to carry out repairs where the tenant is showing symptoms of COVID-19 infection.

Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 the Government’s recent Renter Reform Bill looked set to remove the ‘no fault’ ground for possession under s21 of the Housing Act 1988 which allows landlords to serve two months’ notice on tenants requiring them to give up possession of their home. Instead the landlord would have to rely on one of the specified grounds for possession set out in the 1988 Act.