Landlords had been looking forward to the welcome news that the stay on residential possession proceedings and evictions would come to an end on Sunday the 23rd August 2020. The government has, however, further extended the stay until 20th September 2020.
Given that this is the second extension of the original stay, and that this second extension was announced at the 11th hour on Friday the 21st August, only time will tell if a further extension will be announced. Whilst it is appreciated that the measures are in place to protect financially vulnerable tenants, many landlords are suffering severe financial consequences.
Stay on Possession Proceedings
On 27th March 2020, the government introduced a moratorium on all possession claims and evictions as an emergency response to the Coronavirus pandemic, as a way of providing tenants with greater protection and security during unprecedented times.
The moratorium has seen an amendment to the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) which govern possession proceedings. The amendment now requires all stayed claims to be formally reactivated from 21st September 2020 and there has been a small change to the CPR in relation to all new claims issued from this date. It is unclear at present whether this will continue to be the case after 28th March 2021.
Extension of Notice Periods
Notice periods for landlords seeking possession of their property under Section 8 and Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 (‘the Act’) was also extended to 3 months. The 3 month notice period applies regardless of the grounds upon which possession is being sought. Landlords have therefore been prevented from issuing claims until 3 months have passed from service of the Notice Seeking Possession on the tenant, even if the tenant was in arrears of rent by more than 2 months. The extended notice period is to remain at 3 months until 30th September 2020, after which time it is likely to be reviewed.
Whilst the Courts have permitted new claims to be issued during the moratorium, those have been automatically stayed and will need to be reactivated.
Restarting a Claim
To restart or resume a claim, the landlord will need to ask the Court to lift the stay and proceed to a hearing, subject to any necessary steps in between such as the filing of evidence.
It will also be necessary in some circumstances for the parties to agree a timetable for the proceedings (called ‘case management directions’), plus a date for the hearing and whether that may proceed via video or audio link.
Reactivating a Stayed Claim
There are different requirements for claims issued and stayed by 3rd August 2020 or after this date but in either instance, a request must be made to the Court for the stay to be lifted and the proceedings to resume.
Requests must be filed at Court by 29th January 2021 to avoid a formal application at additional cost.
Rent Statement and Further Information
Landlords must also provide the Court with an up to date rent statement (if applicable) and information known to them about the impact the pandemic has had or will have on the tenant and any dependents, including benefits claimed, disabilities and vulnerabilities.
There is no obligation to actively seek this information, but the Courts will expect the parties to have engaged with one another. Doing so may reduce further delays or adjournments.
Date of Possession
If tenants can show that the pandemic has had or will have a significant impact on them or their dependents, the Courts may use their discretion to increase the usual date of possession from 14 days to 42 days.
Negotiations between Landlord and Tenant
The Courts will also expect the parties to have engaged with one another to try to resolve the situation before issuing a claim for possession, or after a claim has been issued and before it is heard by a Court. We envisage that landlord and tenant negotiations will be an important part of the process for the time being and certainly until the early part of next year.
There is also the growing uncertainty surrounding ‘no-fault’ possessions following the government’s aim to scrap the Section 21 process under the Renters Reform Bill. For these reasons, negotiation is always advisable.
How Will the Courts Cope after 20th September 2020?
It is expected that there will be a flood of new claims being issued from 21st September 2020 and a large influx of requests for claims to be resumed after this date. It is anyone’s guess how the Courts will cope but it is very likely that there will be significant delays.
For these reasons, we would strongly suggest that any new claims or requests for stays to be lifted are filed at the Court on 21st September 2020 or as soon as possible thereafter.
Landlord’s Additional Costs
Landlords will also incur additional legal costs for the further work necessary, and many will have incurred those costs already in anticipation of the stay ending on 23rd August 2020 (now 20th September 2020). We hope that any preparatory work which has already been carried out may be used when the stay eventually ends, and we are able to offer very competitive rates to carry out the necessary work if this has not been done so far.
We Can Help
Mayo Wynne Baxter has a dedicated property litigation team and specialists dealing with residential and commercial landlord and tenant matters. If you would like advice or assistance in relation to residential property possession, please contact Shelley Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org or for commercial property possession, please contact Helen Bell at email@example.com