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Legal update – COVID 19 – Impact on possession claims

The recent pandemic of COVID-19 is causing both landlords to become unaware of what their rights are when it comes to evicting a tenant from their property. This article is to provide a brief overview of the current legislation as it stands today and to assist landlords in answering some of their questions.

The Coronavirus Act 2020 was given Royal Assent late on 25 March 2020. This means that the following provisions apply from 26 March 2020. These provisions are likely to remain in place until 30 September 2020.

In a nutshell, the Act extends the required period of time that landlords have to give their tenants if they wish to bring a possession claim. The Courts are also not processing any possession claims at present.

From today, and during the emergency period, if a landlord intends to give a tenant notice to seek possession of the property, the landlord must now give tenants 3 months’ notice. This applies to both Section 21 notices and Section 8 notices. These provisions do not apply to licences, contractual tenancies and tenancies granted in the course of employment.

So, what happens if you have already issued a notice on your tenant and it has either expired or soon will do?

Firstly, the Section 21 and Section 8 notices will remain valid and do not need to be re-issued. Once the notices expire you have right to issue a possession claim.

The legislation has also put a hold on all active possession claims for a period of 90 days and prevents the issuing of any new possession claims for the same 90 days. Therefore unless the legislation is lifted early (which is unlikely) this is likely to remain in place until approximately 26 June 2020 with all claims put on hold and no new claims issued. This will be the case regardless of what grounds you are looking to bring a claim under, and will include non-fault section 21 notices, if the tenants have breached the tenancy due to anti-social behaviour or as a result of non-payment of rent.

Will the tenant have to pay the rent?

If the tenant falls into arrears due to the coronavirus this does not mean that they never have to pay this. The Government has advised that landlords and tenants will be expected to work together to establish an ‘affordable repayment plan, taking into account tenants’ individual circumstances.’

There is no further clarification at this stage what will constitute an ‘affordable repayment plan’. We presume that this will include taking into account how the individual tenant has been affected by the virus including the effects on their employment and income. If the tenant does not engage with the landlord and or refuses to pay the unpaid rent after the emergency legislation has been lifted then the landlord can issue the notices and then proceedings in the usual way.

Landlords need to consider whether the coronavirus has been a factor in the tenant falling into arrears or whether the tenant is simply unable to afford the rent. If the tenant has approached the landlord regarding any inability to pay rent as a result of the coronavirus, landlords are being asked to discuss with their tenants their entitlement to benefits and other means of support.

We suspect that there is a high probability that more tenants will fall into arrears as the consequence of the crisis. We also expect there to be long delays with the courts once possession claims can be issued again and the emergency legislation lifted. There is no prevention on serving notices now and (where necessary) we can prepare pleadings for landlords so that they are ahead of the curve once the legislation has been lifted and any claims can be issued without delay.

Here at Eric Robinson we are here to help if you are a landlord looking to evict a tenant or if you are a tenant being been served with a notice or proceedings. If you have a query regarding any of the above please do not hesitate to contact us.