Coronavirus – Changes to Repossession of Property by Landlords
Following the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic the Government has changed the law to restrict the rights of landlords to obtain possession of their property.
At the present time the main changes are as follows:-
1. From the 25th June 2020 all new proceedings and all evictions are suspended until 23rd August 2020, or later if the stay is extended further.
2. All private landlords are required to abide by the pre-action protocols for social landlords in the future.
3. The notice periods for serving Section 8 and Section 21 notices are extended by 3 months until September 30th 2020 and may be extended further to 6 months in due course.
The changes mean that it will not be possible for a landlord to obtain a possession order of any type, or enforce one, until at least 23rd August 2020.
The concern is that tenants, especially vulnerable ones, should not be evicted from their homes during the period of the upheavals caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.
On 5th June 2020 the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) announced its intention to extend the current suspension of evictions from social, or privately rented accommodations by two months until 23rd August 2020. MHCLG’s announcement stated that the extension would also apply to homeowners and possession proceedings relating to commercial and leasehold properties.
MHCLG also announced a setting up of a judicial working group to make proposals for how restrictions on possession proceedings are eventually to be lifted. This will give protections for those who have been particularly affected by Covid-19, including vulnerable tenants and those who have been shielding during the pandemic.
The Government has announced that the pre-action protocol for social landlords will be extended to private landlords but at present no date has been fixed for this to come into force. Landlords will need to comply with the protocol before they can commence proceedings. There should be more pre-action contact by exchange of information and documentation between landlord and tenants to avoid litigation. Landlords should try to agree out of Court settlements with their tenants to avoid litigation. They should ensure that they have documented the steps they have taken to communicate with the tenant and that the tenant understands the documents that the landlord has served.
The penalties for failing to comply with the pre-action protocol include adjourning, or striking out the claim and making an Order for costs against the landlord. The landlord should make reasonable efforts to contact the tenant to discuss the situation and send the tenant a copy of the pre-action protocol for possession claims by social landlords. The landlord should postpone taking Court action if the tenant makes reasonable proposals for payment of the arrears and sticks to that arrangement. The landlord must warn the tenant of their intention to resume possession proceedings if an agreed payment plan is not maintained.
It is not clear at the present time as to what will happen when the Coronavirus has eased and the temporary extensions of time have expired. There is no change to the underlying rights and obligations of the tenants. However, it is very likely that in the near future it will become a statutory requirement for private landlords to follow to the pre-action protocol before commencing possession proceedings and in the meantime it would be advisable for private landlords to follow the protocol voluntarily.
For further information about this article or Landlord and Tenant disputes, please contact Robert Anderson on 01274 723858