Solicitor Asma Muneer, in our Dispute Resolution team, explains the impact of the Coronavirus Act 2020 on landlords seeking to to recover possession of rented property.
The Coronavirus Act 2020 came into force on 26 March 2020, substantially affecting the ability of landlords to recover possession of properties in England and Wales. Following this legislation, it has become considerably difficult for landlords to recover possession of rented property as the Coronavirus Act 2020 and Civil Procedure Rules brought in tighter restrictions on the Court’s management of possession claims.
At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, all possession claims were stayed until 20 September 2020. Some months later, we now consider the significant changes that affect landlords and the Courts and the procedures which have been put in place to manage the rise and backlog in possession claims anticipated in 2021.
Recovering possession of rented property
Below we consider the stages of recovering possession of your rented property and how this has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
1. Notices Seeking Possession
A key change which has been brought into force is the notice period which must be given to tenants when serving notices seeking possession, for both Section 8 and Section 21 notices. In the majority of cases, from 29 August 2020 until 31 March 2021, the notice period which must be given to tenants to leave the property is now 6 months, save for a few exceptions.
A shorter period is permitted where the grounds of eviction relate to anti-social behaviour or domestic violence. In England, a shorter notice period is also permitted for fraud or where at least six months' rent is unpaid at the date on which the notice seeking possession is served.
2. Starting a Possession Claim
You have to wait until the deadline set out in the notice seeking possession has passed before commencing a claim. This means that landlords will now have to wait 6 months in most circumstances before commencing possession proceedings.
For claims based solely on rent arrears, relying on grounds 8, 10 or 11 in a Section 8 notice, you can use the Possession claims online service. For all other grounds you will need to use the standard possession claim form. You can apply for an accelerated possession order if you are relying upon a Section 21 notice and you are not claiming rent arrears, which is sometimes quicker as a hearing is not required.
For possession claims issued before 3 August 2020, landlords will need to reactivate the claim by filing a Reactivation notice with the Court and serving it on the defendant. The deadline to file this notice is 4.00pm on 29 January 2021.
For further information on possession claims, you may refer to the government guidance: Evicting tenants (England and Wales).
3. Issue of Claim
Once the Court has issued the possession claim they will send a copy of the Claim Form to the tenants who will have 14 days to acknowledge receipt by completing a response form and returning this to the Court.
Review Appointment: This is a new step which has been introduced to the standard possession procedure. Judges will now review the case before deciding whether to list the case for a substantial hearing. Claimants will receive a notice from the Court instructing them to submit an electronic or hard copy bundle of documents relevant to the case 14 days before the review date and to confirm that they have served this on the defendant.
4. Possession Hearing
If the case is not settled by the review hearing and the Judge considers all steps have been followed, then the case will be listed for a possession hearing 28 days after the review date. At this later hearing, the Judge will decide whether to make a possession order or give other case management directions of further steps the parties need to take.
5. Enforcing a Possession Order
Once a possession order has been made by the Court and in the event that the tenants do not leave the property in accordance with the order, you can apply to the Court for a warrant of possession for bailiffs to evict the tenants from the property. At this stage, you can either request the County Court bailiffs to take action or seek to transfer the matter up to the High Court to appoint High Court Enforcement Officers.
At the time of writing this article, due to a third national lockdown announced on 4 January 2021, bailiffs are not permitted to carry out evictions (save in exceptional circumstances). The current restriction on evictions which was due to be lifted on 11 January 2021 has now been extended for a further six weeks until 21 February 2021.
At present, it is an uncertain future for many landlords, who may be struggling financially due to non-payment of rent by tenants both before and during the pandemic, who are then unable to seek resolution through the Courts until such time as the ban on evictions is lifted.
For further information or legal advice, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0118 951 6800.
This article is intended for the use of clients and other interested parties. The information contained in it is believed to be correct at the date of publication, but it is necessarily of a brief and general nature and should not be relied upon as a substitute for specific professional advice.