To protect tenants and landlords affected by the coronavirus, the government has announced emergency legislation to do the following:
- Suspend new evictions from social or private rented accommodation while this national emergency is taking place
- No new possession proceedings through applications to the court to start during the crisis
- Landlords will also be protected as three-month mortgage payment holiday is extended to buy to let mortgages.
After announcing a three-month mortgage payment holiday for those affected by the coronavirus, the government quickly responded to demands from landlords and tenants to extend this to those landlords whose tenants are experiencing financial difficulties due to coronavirus.
At the end of the three-month period, landlords and tenants will be expected to work together to establish an affordable payment plan. To support this, the ‘pre-action protocol’ on possession proceedings that currently only applies to social tenancies is to be extended to private renters. The ‘pre-action protocol’ puts an obligation on landlords to make reasonable attempts to contact the tenant before proceedings are issued in order to discuss their arrears and their cause. Provided a tenant complies with an agreement to pay a reasonable amount towards the arrears (as well as the current rent) the landlord should agree to postpone applying to court for possession.
The advice to landlords is to show compassion to their tenants who are affected by the coronavirus and to allow them to stay in their homes whenever possible. We would, therefore, urge landlords to contact their tenants early on and understand the impact that the coronavirus may have on their finances and ultimately on their ability to be able to pay their rent. Certainly, landlords are advised not to put tenants under pressure to pay rent where they are experiencing difficulties.
Landlords are also reminded that their statutory duties such as maintaining heating and hot water continue to apply; but landlords should be mindful of the government’s public health guidance when entering properties.
Existing Possession Claims
In relation to any existing possession claims, the Lord Chief Justice has sent a message to judges in the civil and family courts, which makes it clear:
- Applications to suspend warrants of possession should be prioritised
- Block listing for possession claims are inappropriate; and
- Judges dealing with any possession claim during the crisis must have in mind the public health guidance and should not make an order that risks impacting public health.
The implications of this message are likely to be that possession claims are very likely to be delayed and that even where possession claims have already started a judge is unlikely to make a possession order; especially if the outcome of such an order would be to make the tenant homeless or reliant on temporary accommodation.
Although the emergency legislation has not come into effect yet, it will be taken forward as an urgent priority. Like many issues now, it is expected that further developments and clarification will be provided on this area in the coming days and weeks.
Before the outbreak of COVID-19, it was expected that the ‘no fault’ ground for possession under s.21 of the Housing Act 1988 was going to be removed. A s.21 notice allows landlords to serve two months’ notice on tenants requiring them to give up possession of the property, without the tenant being in breach of their tenancy. It is possible, that the emergency legislation bought into effect may increase the urgency in which the government’s recent bill comes into force; to provide greater protection to tenants going forward.