On 25 March 2020, the UK Government passed into law the Coronavirus Act 2020. The Act came into force on 26 March 2020 and its provisions will continue to be applied in England and Wales until at least 30 September 2020.
The Coronavirus Act imposes new restrictions on landlords regaining possession of their social/privately rented accommodation whilst the Covid-19 pandemic continues. Such changes are intended to be temporary, with a view to preventing tenants from being made homeless during the crisis.
Whilst eviction notices seeking possession may still be served by landlords upon their tenants, the relevant statutory notice given ahead of issuing Court proceedings for most tenancies (regardless of the grounds for eviction) is increased to three months. This covers eviction notices served under the Rent Act 1977, the Housing Act 1985, the Housing Act 1988 and the Housing Act 1996.
As a result, any landlord who wishes to serve an eviction notice will need to abide by the new notice period and wait three months from the date of serving the notice before being able to apply to the Court for possession.
New forms for the more commonly used Section 8 and Section 21 Housing Act 1988 notices reflecting these changes can be found here. If older versions of these notices are served between now and 30 September 2020, a Court is likely to deem them invalid.
It had been expected that the Coronavirus Act would include a ban on residential evictions (even in those cases where eviction notices had been served and possession proceedings were already underway), however the Act does not expressly state this. Instead, the Master of the Rolls, with the agreement of the Lord Chancellor, has announced that the Courts will suspend all proceedings for a period of 90 days initially, but this period can be extended if needed.
We are informed by the Designated Civil Judge for Newcastle and Durham that the following measures have been implemented for both that area as well as Darlington and Teesside:-
- All possession hearings relating to residential property listed between now and 19 June 2020 are vacated from the list.
- Vacated possession hearings will be re-listed on the first available date after 19 June 2020.
- Any newly issued possession claims shall be stayed until 19 June 2020 and will be listed on the first available date thereafter.
- Notwithstanding points a-c above, a party is entitled to apply to the Court for a particular eviction hearing to proceed if there are exceptional circumstances.
This means that, unless there are “exceptional circumstances”, neither cases in or about to enter the system can currently progress to the stage where a tenant is ordered by a Court to leave a property.
However, despite the legal changes, tenants are still responsible for their rent payments and landlords remain legally obliged to ensure properties meet the required standards.
Tenants should always remember that they will ultimately remain liable for payment of rent in full and may still face eviction once the initial three-month period has ended.
It has been recognised that many tenants are likely to face financial hardship and struggle to pay their rent as normal. So, in addition to the new measures outlined above, the Government has agreed with lenders that landlords will be protected by a three-month mortgage payment holiday where they hold a Buy-to-Let mortgage.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has published guidance regarding the changes affecting residential tenancies, and this can be found here.
The Coronavirus Act also impacts on commercial leases as it provides that for business tenancies no right of re-entry or forfeiture for non-payment of rent may be enforced in any way until at least 30 June 2020. During the same period, any existing litigation based on forfeiture for non-payment of rent cannot result in eviction whilst a failure to pay rent during this period will be disregarded for the purposes of lease renewals (in particular section 30(1)(b) of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954).
Finally, unless a landlord provides an express waiver in writing, no conduct by a landlord will be regarded as a waiver of a right of re-entry or forfeiture.
At Swinburne Maddison, we act for registered providers of social housing, as well as private landlords and tenants in both the residential and commercial sectors, so we understand the complexities involved in this area.
By working remotely, our Property Litigation team are still on hand and able to answer any questions or concerns you may have during this challenging and unprecedented time. We will be monitoring further developments and providing additional updates when possible.