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08th April 2020

COVID-19 – respite for renters

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At an early stage in the crisis the Government reassured tenants that it would bring in emergency legislation to prevent landlords from starting possession proceedings for at least a three month period. The Coronavirus Act 2020, which came into force on 25 March, has introduced the promised protections for renters in the private and social sectors. It must be emphasised at the outset that the changes do not affect the tenant’s liability to pay rent. Rent remains payable in full. However the Act confirms that where a landlord serves a (1) notice to quit (2) notice of intended possession proceedings or (3) notice under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 (which is the ‘no fault’ ground for possession which ordinarily requires two months’ notice to be given to the tenant) the landlord must give at least three months’ notice. This applies to all notices served between 26 March and 30 September.

In addition the Civil Procedure Rules, which govern the process of applying to the court for possession of premises, were also amended. The amendments confirm that all possession proceedings are stayed (effectively put on hold) for a period of 90 days from 27 March. This also covers proceedings where the landlord is requesting the eviction of a tenant based on a possession order made by the court before the Act and the changes to the Rules came into effect.

The provisions cover all residential tenancy possession proceedings as well as mortgage possession proceedings, proceedings against licensees (ie those who occupy property under a less formal arrangement than a tenancy) and also claims issued against trespassers (squatters).

If a landlord served a notice before the changes come into effect, the notice will be valid. So a section 21 notice served on 24 March giving two months’ notice will be valid, but a notice served after 25 March must give three months’ notice.

Where the correct period of notice has been given to a tenant and the notice period has expired, the changes to the Civil Procedure Rules do not prevent the landlord from issuing proceedings, but those proceedings will be automatically stayed for 90 days.

The time periods specified in the Act and the Rules can be varied by the Government and time will tell whether further leeway will be given to tenants. The fear is that the Courts may face a wave of new possession proceedings after 1 October. There had been suggestion that the new legislation might require landlords to work with tenants to establish an affordable repayment plan which takes into account tenants’ individual circumstances. That hasn’t been introduced yet so there are perhaps further changes in the pipeline to assist all people affected by the current crisis to stay in their homes wherever possible. Landlords would be well advised to keep in touch with their tenants and to try to work with the tenants as much as possible. Any agreements reached with tenants about rent payment holidays or any rent reductions should be confirmed in writing.

Hewitsons are happy to discuss any COVID-19 related matters and assist in documenting any agreements about rent reductions and rent payment holidays. Please contact Rachel Sims for more information on 01223 532730 or click here to email Rachel.