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Can a Landlord evict a Tenant during the Coronavirus Lockdown?
- AuthorGiles Dobson
Can a Landlord successfully evict a Tenant during the Coronavirus Outbreak and Lockdown?
The Government has recognised that the Coronavirus emergency in the UK means that greater protection from eviction is necessary for both individuals and families as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many Tenants have been concerned that they will not have sufficient income to pay their rent on time, or at all, if they have been unable to work or have been furloughed under the Government Job Retention Scheme.
The Government has passed an emergency, but temporary piece of legislation, the Coronavirus Act 2020. Section 81 of the Act extends statutory notice periods relating to all common forms of Tenancy Agreement (including Assured Shorthold Tenancies, Rent Act 1977 Tenancies and Assured Tenancies). The notice period must now be “no less than 3 months”. All Notices (for example under Section 21 for no fault evictions or Section 8 for all fault based evictions) served on Tenants after 26th March 2020 (when the Act became effective) until 30th September 2020 must not expire within a 3 month period. This extended period applies to whichever ground the Landlord seeks possession under, including rental arrears where normally the notice period can be just 2 weeks.
A further provision within the Act allows the Government to amend this 3 month notice period to 6 months should the Government wish to do so in order to protect tenants’ rights.
To effect this, the Government have changed the Civil Procedure Rules. Any proceedings issued after 27th March 2020 for an Order for Possession “are stayed for a period of 90 days”. This means that not only are all current possession proceedings paused for 90 days, there can be no enforcement or possession orders by Landlords during this period.
The legislation is designed to give tenants a “breather” if they are unable to pay their rent in full during the Coronavirus crisis. However, it does not mean that the unpaid rent is written off. Tenants will remain liable for all outstanding rent under the terms of their Agreement. Once restrictions on movement are gradually lifted and people can return to work, Landlords will be looking for Tenants to pay any arrears that have accrued.
The changes to the pre-action protocol will mean that Landlords can only seek possession of properties where Tenants have breached reasonable payment plans in respect of rent arrears. For many Landlords, the unpaid rent will prove a challenge as not only are Tenants able to avoid possession for the next 3 months (or longer if the period is extended by the Government) the Court system has a significant backlog of possession claims that are already in the system and which have effectively been “paused” by this legislation. Additionally, the Courts are experiencing significant delays generally and any landlord seeking to obtain possession of a property for non-payment of rent going forward will face some significant delays. Some Landlords may be able to take advantage of the 3 month mortgage payment holiday that is available to Landlords with any mortgage on the property that they let out and Landlords can seek further details on this. Some Landlords have been proactive and have looked to contact Tenants to see if Tenants can pay 80% of their rent now if they are only receiving 80% of their normal salary under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
Additionally some Tenants have had their benefits or Universal Credit increased and maybe in a position to pay something rather than nothing. Constructive dialogue and reasonable payment plans would prove beneficial to both Landlords and Tenants but this should be documented in writing so that there could no confusion as to what has been agreed going forward.