• The recent changes to residential tenancies follow the Government’s announcement of a complete ban on evictions and additional protection for renters during the coronavirus pandemic.

    On 18 March, the Government made clear that no renter in private or social accommodation needed to be concerned about the threat of eviction during the coronavirus crisis.

    New legislation and changes in procedure relating to residential tenancies were put in place to support this. Overall, these restrict the ability of landlords to terminate residential tenancies by notice, a stay of all existing possession proceedings and enforcement of warrants of possession until at least 24 June 2020, with the possibility of an extension.

    Coronavirus Act 2020

    Section 81 and Schedule 29 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 took effect on 26 March 2020 and apply until 30 September 2020. Schedule 29 sets out revised notice periods for residential tenancies in England and Wales. The changes affect all types of protected, secure and statutory tenancies, but the most common of these are Assured Shorthold Tenancies.

    Assured and Assured Shorthold Tenancies

    The key change is to increase the minimum notice period for any new notice under Section 8 of the Housing Act to three months This covers all grounds for possession, not just those grounds based upon rent arrears, regardless of whether any breach of tenancy or rent arrears arose before the Coronavirus Act 2020 came into force.

    In addition, the notice period under Section 21 – the no fault grounds for possession – is increased to three months, instead of two months.

    What about existing notices?

    The new law only applies to new notices and does not affect the notice period for any notices served before 26 March 2020. However, these will be affected by the new Practice Direction and Court priority of work, outlined below.

    What about existing possession proceedings and evictions?

    The Coronavirus Act 2020 did not directly alter existing residential possession proceedings. However, all existing proceedings were stayed for 90 days by a new Practice Direction which lasts until 30 October 2020.

    The Practice Direction states: “All proceedings for possession brought under CPR Part 55 and all proceedings seeking to enforce an order for possession by a warrant or writ of possession are stayed for a period of 90 days from the date this Direction comes into force.”

    As a result, no possession orders can take effect or be progressed until at least 24 June 2020. That date may be subject to further extension. Claims for injunctive relief are not subject to the stay.

    What about new possession proceedings and requests for warrants of possession?

    There is no specific restriction upon issuing new possession proceeding based on existing notices. However, any such claims are likely to be automatically stayed for the 90-day period.

    On 1 April 2020 HM Courts and Tribunal Service published a list of priority work for the County Court, identifying work that must and could be carried out with Courts categorised as to those that are open, staffed or suspended. As a result, not all County Courts remain open, and those that do may only be dealing with the specified priority work.

    Possession proceedings and requests for warrants of possession were not included within this priority work, save for injunctions, anti-social behaviour and harassment injunctions (not ancillary to possession), applications to stay enforcement of existing possession orders, and homelessness applications. The County Court is now returning any new requests for a warrant of possession to the applicant, and no new eviction appointments will be scheduled for existing warrants, while all existing appointments are being postponed.

    What about pursuing arrears as a debt claim?

    These new rules apply to pursuing possession proceedings and eviction of tenants. While there are no restrictions upon pursuing any rent arrears as a debt claim in the County Court, it is unclear whether such work would be considered priority work, meaning the County Court Bailiff or High Court Enforcement Officer would not carry out personal attendance for enforcement.

    Further information

    For more information on changes to residential tenancies and protection from eviction, please see the Government’s legislation:

    If you want to know more about changes to residential tenancies and the ability to recover possession of a residential property, please contact Brachers’ Property and Land Disputes team.

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