The Coronavirus Act 2020 (“the Act”) came into force on 25 March 2020 and has been introduced to protect both residential landlords and tenants from the impacts of the coronavirus outbreak.
3 month notice period for ASTs and social housing
The following notices being served between 26th March 2020 and 30th September 2020 will now be subject to an extended minimum notice period of 3 months before they expire:
- S21 notices seeking possession against ASTs (usually 2 months’ notice required)
- S8 notices seeking possession against ASTs (or Assured Tenants) (includes fault based grounds such as rent arrears where possession proceedings would usually be commenced very quickly after serving the notice)
- S83 Housing Act 1985 notices seeking possession of property let under a secure tenancy
All other requirements regarding the service and enforcement of such notices remain in place. Once the notice has been served you would usually speak to the tenant and agree a date on which they will check out. The tenant would usually vacate in accordance with the notice. If they do not then the landlord would be obliged to issue court proceedings for possession as you are not allowed to evict residential tenants without a court order.
Suspension of Court Proceedings
In addition to the above extended notice period, all courts in England and Wales have suspended possession hearings for at least 90 days from 27th March 2020.
In practice, once a notice has expired, a claim can still be issued but it will not be listed for a hearing until after the 90 day suspension. If a claim has already been issued it will also be subject to the 90 day suspension and the individual court will be in touch to re-list the hearing or confirm next steps.
This will apply to all possession claims and not only those with are caught by the 3 month notice period.
Who isn’t given this protection?
Whilst the Act covers the majority of residential tenants it does not cover everyone. Examples of those who are unlikely to be covered are lodgers, homeless applicants housed under licence and some people where accommodation is part of their employment.
Forfeiture of long residential leases commenced by service of proceedings can continue to be issued in the usual way, but will be subject to the 90 day suspension of possession claims in court.
Rent is still due
Whilst there may be a delay on the landlord’s ability to enforce possession, tenants are not entitled to withhold their rent. If tenants are struggling to pay then they should discuss with their landlord an affordable payment plan so as to avoid the landlord serving notice and seeking possession.
Other considerations for Landlords
It may seem like a good idea to both landlord and tenant to use the deposit to top up or cover unpaid rent if the tenant is struggling to pay but this should not be agreed to. The scheme only allows sums to be drawn down after the tenancy agreement has come to an end.
Mortgage lenders have agreed to offer payment holidays of up to three months where this is needed due to Coronavirus-related hardship, including for buy-to-let mortgages. Landlords should therefore get in touch with their mortgage provider if they are concerned.
Landlords have the same responsibilities and legal obligations for repairing standards throughout this time and will need to ensure that urgent or essential health and safety repairs continue to be completed.
Finally, the government is urging landlords to think very carefully before issuing possession proceedings of any kind at this time. Landlord’s should be conscious that this directive may be reflected in orders made by judges at possession hearings where they have discretion on points such as costs.