Covid-related legislation continues to change with some of the temporary measures coming to an end and being replaced at the very last minute with new ones.The first of these was due to be the commencement again of possession hearings in court from 24th August 2020. But its not quite as straightforward as you might have hoped and for extra measure the notice periods needed to end a tenancy are being changed from 3 to 6 months in most cases, meaning landlords need to plan much further ahead than ever before!
From the 24th August 2020 the courts were due to see possession claims once more, which would have been welcome news for landlords who have submitted claims that have been ‘stayed’ (put on hold) while the courts were effectively suspended. However, at the last minute the pause on possession hearings has been extended further, by another 4 weeks to 20th September 2020.
Once open again there will also be a ‘reactivation’ process – which means if you have paperwork submitted already you are required to serve a reactivation notice to the court and the tenant, to confirm you still wish the hearing to be scheduled, effectively getting back in the queue.
You are required also to provide information to the court of how the defendant (tenants) may have been effected by the coronavirus and if your claim is for possession and rent arrears you are required also to submit a rental statement for 2 full years or to the start of the tenancy if that was sooner.
Changes to Notice Periods – Regulations outlining how six-month notice periods will work in England, have now been published and came into being on Saturday 29 August 2020. This effectively extends the Coronavirus Act 2020 through to 31 March 2021.
These changes will not be applied retrospectively, meaning notices served prior to Saturday 29th August keep a three-month notice period, however most notices issued from Saturday 29th August 2020 onwards, must be served on the basis of a six month notice period.
For new tenancies this means there is an effective new minimum enforceable term of 10 months from a landlord’s point of view as there is a 4-month period at the start of a tenancy where notice may not be served, with a further 6-month notice period now on top. In line with this change the ‘life span’ of a Section 21 notice is extended to 10 months (from 6) so that it does not expire prior to being actioned.
The new regulations specify a tiered structure of notice periods in order to prioritise possession proceedings:
Where notice is served as a result of rent arrears, six months’ notice is required. However, if the arrears exceed six months rental payments at the time of serving notice, the notice period reduces to four weeks
A number of other scenarios are addressed:
• In cases of domestic abuse or riot, 2 weeks’ notice will suffice
• Where landlords are seeking possession as a result of anti-social behaviour, four weeks’ notice will be sufficient
• Where tenants are required to vacate property as a result of failed follow-up Right to Rent checks, 12 weeks’ notice will be required
In a final twist to the current difficulties obtaining possession the government have just announced that where there are ‘Local Lockdowns’ there will be a ‘winter truce’ on the enforcement of evictions, with no evictions permitted in England and Wales in the run up to and over Christmas except in the most serious circumstances, such as cases involving anti-social behaviour or domestic abuse.
These further measures look set to ‘buy’ some more time to protect tenants while further assistance measures can be introduced to help to support the worst affected by Covid 19 and their landlords.