The government has now introduced emergency legislation which is intended to protect residential occupiers from being evicted as a result of COVID-19. However, the Coronavirus Act 2020 (“the Act”) does not seem to go as far as the government assured the public it would do and has left millions of renters confused about their position.
The Act states that renters who have an Assured or Assured Shorthold Tenancy, Secure Tenancy, Rent Act/Protected Tenancy, Flexible Tenancy, Demoted Tenancy or Introductory Tenancy must be given at least 3 months’ notice before Court proceedings can begin. This is the case if the notice is served at any time between 26 March 2020 and 30 September 2020. The Act also states that the notice period landlords have to give may, in future, be extended by up to 6 months.
The changes do not affect Section 8 or Section 21 Notices that have already been validly served prior to 26 March 2020 (even if they expire after that date). Further, there is no prohibition on landlords applying to Court for a possession order before 30 September 2020, so long as the required period of notice has been given.
In practice, this means that if a landlord has already served a valid Section 8 or Section 21 Notice prior to 26 March 2020; or decides to serve one of those types of notices giving the new required 3 month notice period; there is nothing preventing them from then applying to Court for a possession order once the notice has expired. However, the Court is then likely to delay listing a hearing or granting a possession order, at least until 30 September 2020.
The provisions of the Act appear to be in contrast to the assurances given by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on Twitter on 24 March 2020 (prior to the Act receiving Royal Assent) which said that:
“the emergency legislation means there can be no evictions as a result of #coronavirus for 3 months”
“a three month relief of any eviction proceedings starting will begin to protect renters at this difficult time” and that
“clear guidance has been given to judges and bailiffs, meaning that it is highly unlikely that any possession proceedings will continue during this period.”
Most judges will put a temporary suspension on possession claims and bailiffs are cancelling evictions where dates have already been fixed and are not fixing any more dates until further notice. However, the Act doesn’t actually prevent these things from happening, and the suspensions are going to be lifted eventually. We have not seen the “clear guidance” given to judges and bailiffs, but it is just that – guidance, rather than law.
The Act falls short of the assurances given by the government in its press release on 18 March 2020, which said there would be a “complete ban on evictions and additional protection for renters”. A complete ban this is not.
If you are a landlord looking to recover possession of your property and need assistance in serving a Section 8 Notice or Section 21 Notice, or a tenant worried about your landlord trying to evict you, please contact our Landlord and Tenant expert, Liam Kreibich, on 01332 225207 or firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Please note, all advice and opinion offered in this article are subject to change in line with the latest government advice.