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Pause on Possession: the Impact of Covid-19 on Residential Letting

It was inevitable that, given the current state of flux the country finds itself in, there would be an impact on tenancy management. No sooner had the Chancellor announced a mortgage holiday for borrowers than the (entirely understandable) calls of ‘what about tenants?’ started. The Government’s answer to that question is now clear – but many landlords may not like the solution.

On 25 March 2020 the wide-ranging Coronavirus Act 2020 received Royal Assent. One section and a Schedule to the Act addresses residential tenancies and ‘protection from eviction.’ The focus of the Act is to prevent any new evictions caused as a result of the coronavirus. The Act seeks to do this by extending the notice period landlords are required to provide to tenants to 3 months. These provisions apply to the vast majority of residential tenancies, including secure tenancies granted by local authorities, assured tenancies and assured shorthold tenancies. The notice period required to determine residential licences remains unchanged.

The Government have published new section 8 and section 21 notices. From 26 March until 30 September 2020 (and possibly beyond, if the Government extend the measures), these new forms giving the extended 3 month notice period should be used by landlords.

The extended notice is understandable for rent possession claims, where tenants may well be impacted financially by the economic impact the virus is having. However, the Act makes no distinction between rent possession and any other reason a landlord may seek to evict: the 3 month notice requirement applies even to cases involving anti-social behaviour and serious criminal behaviour. The view seemingly taken by the Government is that they want to see no tenant evicted, irrespective of the reason, at this time. The coming weeks will see whether this broad brush approach will bring tenancy management problems, particularly for social landlords.   

There has been criticism from tenant groups that the Act does not actually prevent a landlord from seeking possession – all it does is force landlords to give a longer notice period, and proceedings could be issued from early July.

However, the hole in the Act in this regard has been plugged by the judiciary. From 27 March 2020, all possession actions (including claims against licensees where the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 applies) are suspended for an initial period of 90 days. The wording of the press release from the Government would suggest that new possession claims can be issued (although, given the current operational difficulties within the Court, this could be difficult), but that a possession claim cannot progress to a stage where a tenant risks being evicted.

The Courts are still operating. Landlords do still have the ability to seek urgent injunctions in the face of serious anti-social behaviour, or a lack of access so gas safety checks or urgent repairs can be carried out. But as far as seeking possession is concerned, the pause button has been pressed.

If you have any further questions please contact Emma Hindon or Jessica Tallon, Senior Associate within the Property Litigation Team.

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