Residential Properties – The easing of restrictions on evictions and additional protections previously afforded to renters
Last updated 12:10, 07 June 2021
In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, the government introduced emergency measures to protect all renters and private landlords. These have now been updated and we summarise as follows:
The Public Health (Coronavirus) (Protection from Eviction and Taking Control of Goods) (England) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/1290) (Regulations) came into force on 17 November 2020 and were ultimately extended to 31 May 2021. The Regulations only applied in England.
The Regulations put a ban on a bailiff or enforcement officer attending a residential property to execute a writ or warrant of possession or restitution or delivering a notice of eviction.
On 1 June 2021 the restrictions on bailiff enforcement came to an end and therefore Landlords can proceed to enforce possession orders. However, bailiffs have been advised not to carry out evictions where residents are self-isolating or have COVID-19 symptoms.
New provisions under the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 4) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/1200) put restrictions on the taking control of goods at residential properties.
- The new rules put a ban on attending a residential property for the purposes of taking control of goods located inside using the procedure in the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007.
- The restrictions on taking control of goods were in force from 17 November 2020 and currently remain in place.
On 22 August 2020 the following changes were announced to the Coronavirus Act 2020 relating to social or private rented accommodation, which will remain in force until the expiry of the legislation, which at the moment remains 25 March 2022:-
- Where possession proceedings had been issues and stayed, a Claimant who wishes to continue proceedings after 20 September 2020 was required to provide a ‘reactivation notice’ by 30 April 2021, informing the Court and the Defendant in writing that he intends to continue the claim. If a notice was not provided, the claim will remain dormant. This rule does not apply to claims issued on or after 3 August 2020 or to a claim in which a final order for possession has already been made;
- If a possession claim includes a claim for a tenant’s non-payment of rent, the Claimant will be required to set out in the Particulars of Claim the extent of his knowledge as to how the pandemic may have affected the Defendant and any dependants. Claimants will now also be encouraged to produce the full rent arrears history in advance rather than at the hearing.
- The period in a possession claim between issuing a claim form and the hearing date, which is usually no more than eight weeks, has also been suspended.
Previously The Government had extended the notice period under Section 21 notices from 2 months to 6 months.
On 12 May 2021 the government announced that the 6 month notice period would be reduced to 4months from 1 June 2021. The measure to protect tenants means that landlords must provide 4 months’ notice before seeking possession through the courts and applies to the majority of cases including s21 notices. The following exceptions help landlords seek possession in the worst cases:
- Anti-social behaviour (now 4 weeks’ notice);
- Domestic abuse (now 2 to 4 weeks’ notice);
- False statement (now 2 to 4 weeks’ notice);
- Over 6 months’ accumulated rent arrears (now 4 weeks’ notice);
- Breach of immigration rules ‘Right to Rent’ (now 3 months’ notice);
- Death of a tenant (2 months’ notice).
Notice periods for cases where there is less than 4 months’ of unpaid rent, will reduce again to 2 months’ notice from 1 August 2021. This is to support both landlords and tenants and responds to the greater difference between COVID and pre COVID notice periods for rent arrears. Subject to the public health advice and progress with the Roadmap, notice periods will return to pre-pandemic levels from 1 October 2021.
- The government has also announced that it will be working with the judiciary on rules surrounding eviction proceedings to ensure that arrangements are in place to assist the court to give necessary protections to those tenants who have been particularly affected by the crisis.
- The government is also funding a mediation pilot, which will contact parties who agree to engage with the service once possession proceedings have been issued (in between the Review period and substantive hearing). If parties choose to make use of this service, this will not make the possession process any longer but will help to resolve issues and to sustain the tenancy where this is appropriate. Where mediation is unsuccessful, the substantive hearing will go ahead on the original date.
- The mortgage payment holiday announced for residential homeowners was extended to buy-to-let landlords whose tenants are in financial difficulty because of the outbreak. It has been confirmed by the Financial Conduct Authority that the mortgage holiday has been extended to up to 6 months as of 20 November 2020. The deadline to apply for a mortgage payment holiday was 31 March 2021.
- It is still not clear what will happen at the end of this period. The government announcement states that landlords and tenants will be “expected to work together to establish an affordable repayment plan, taking into account tenants’ individual circumstances”.
- The government will also issue guidance which asks landlords to show compassion and to allow tenants who are affected by the Coronavirus to remain in their homes wherever possible.
- The government is also extending the Pre-Action Protocol for possession claims by social landlords to include private landlords. The aim here is to encourage engagement between landlords and tenants to resolve disputes and means that landlords will have to reach out to tenants to understand the financial position they are in.
- This suggests that the onus is left on landlords (and letting agents) to work out what happens next, with landlords expected to be pro-active in their discussions with tenants.
- While no announcements have been made regarding rent suspensions, it is clear that the government expects landlord and tenants to work together flexibility to decide rent payment plans on an individual basis.
- It will be important for any agreed revised rent payment plan to be documented and signed by the parties.
- The government updated its technical guidance on eviction notices on 2 May 2021.
- The Coronavirus Act has modified the notice requirements for landlords seeking possession of their property under s83 of the Housing Act 1986, and s8 and s21 of the Housing Act 1988.
Health and safety obligations, repairs and inspections in the context of Coronavirus
- If a tenant is not shielding or self-isolating, they should allow local authorities, landlords or contractors access to their home in order to carry out a range of works including routine inspections, annual gas safety checks essential and non-essential repairs and maintenance and planned maintenance activity inside and outside the home.
- Landlords should take all reasonable steps to carry out annual gas safety checks at this time, as failure to do so could put tenants at risk of serious illness or fatalities.
- Tenants still have a right to a decent, warm and safe place to live – and it is in the best interests of both tenants and landlords to ensure that properties are kept in good repair and free from hazards.
- Landlords are still legally required to provide tenants with all necessary gas and electrical safety and any other relevant certification at the beginning of a tenancy (and carry out all scheduled inspections and tests where required).
- Local authorities have powers of entry, which would be used in normal circumstances to gain access and carry out inspections.
- Legal duties will remain in place during the period and local authorities should take legal advice if they are unable to comply with them.
- Local authorities should only take enforcement action that they determine necessary. Enforcement policies should be adapted to meet the changing circumstances and latest government advice.
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The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.
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