The Coronavirus Act 2020 came into force on 26 March 2020, and is a wide-ranging means of support to almost every sector during the coronavirus crisis. Amongst other things, the Act confirms that private tenants will not be evicted from their homes for at least three months if they are struggling with their rent during this pandemic. The Act gives protection to assured, assured shorthold, flexible, secure and Rent Act tenants.
Effect on Notices Seeking Possession
Any notice for possession (including notices to quit, section 21 notices and section 8 notices), if served by a landlord between 26 March 2020 and 30 September 2020 (defined as the relevant period) must give at least 3 months’ notice. Possession proceedings may not be brought unless at least 3 months notice has been given. The Government has the power to alter the three month notice period to six months if it considers appropriate – though it does not go on to say in what circumstances this might happen, or how such a change might affect existing notices.
It appears that notices served before the commencement date of the new Act will remain valid and therefore landlords will not be prevented from starting proceedings to enforce existing notices. It is unlikely, however, that the courts will be issuing any new proceedings during the current restrictions.
Also, the Government will be introducing a new pre-action protocol for possession claims that arise during the crisis encouraging landlords and tenants to engage with one another on the issue of the arrears.
Is Rent still payable?
For the avoidance of doubt, a tenant is not released from its obligation to pay rent during the pandemic and the Government have not announced an enforced rent freeze. The legislation should offer tenants some peace of mind that they will not be evicted over the next few months and not without attempting to come to an arrangement with landlords. The Government will expect landlords and tenants to work together constructively to reach a solution that will suit them both, perhaps by way of a payment plan or reduced monthly payments after the 3-month period has ended. The new pre-action protocol is likely to require landlords to demonstrate that they have explored payment options with their tenants before issuing proceedings.
Support for Landlords
To support landlords, the three month “mortgage holiday” afforded to homeowners will be extended to buy-to-let landlords whose tenants are struggling with rent payments. A landlord would likely have to demonstrate that their tenant is unable to pay rent and/or they have agreed a payment plan due to financial difficulties arising from the coronavirus crisis. It is recommended that landlords gather this evidence from their tenants now in preparation.
The eviction ban will apply even if you already have a possession order. The Government has stated “no renters in private or social accommodation needs to be concerned about the threat of eviction‚Ä¶” for at least 3 months. Existing and new bailiff appointments will be re-scheduled to take place after the ban is lifted; so landlords are unlikely to obtain possession before at least September 2020. The earliest landlords will be able to try and enforce existing possession orders (on the current timeline) is June/July 2020, and it is then usually 2-3 months before a bailiff appointment is confirmed. This timescale could be extended if there is a backlog and/or swathe of evictions following the end of the ban.
The eviction ban appears not to apply to trespassers. The legislation specifically refers to “tenants” and “tenancies” as opposed to occupiers. The Government’s intention is clearly to protect lawful occupiers. Whether the courts are actually able to issue any proceedings due to the current social restrictions is another question however.