Since the start of lockdown, the government has made various changes to existing legislation and enacted new legislation to deal with the effects of the coronavirus on tenants, with a view to keeping a roof over the heads of those in rented property. If you do need to seek possession of your property (and your tenants are occupying under an Assured Shorthold Tenancy) what should you be aware of and what has changed?
1. Section 8 and Section 21 Notices
The prescribed forms - Form 3 for Section 8 Notices and Form 6A for Section 21 Notices, have changed. Do not be tempted to use a template notice that you used for a previous tenant or eviction as the form you use will probably be out of date.
2. Notice periods
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, a Section 21 Notice had to give the tenant at least 2 months’ notice and a Section 8 Notice had to give varying periods of notice dependent upon the ground being used. For the commonly used Ground 8 (rent arrears), the notice period was at least 2 weeks.
During the ‘suspension period’ both Section 21 and Section 8 Notices had to give tenants a minimum of 3 months’ notice.
Since 29 August 2020, both Section 21 and Section 8 Notices have to give tenants a minimum of 6 months’ notice. There are some Section 8 exceptions to the 6 months’ notice period when relying on Grounds 7, 7A, 7B, 14, 14A, 14ZA, 17, and 8, 10 and 11 with over 6 months’ of rent arrears.
3. Notice periods are different in Wales
Since 24 August 2020 both Section 21 and Section 8 Notices have had notice periods of at least 6 months in Wales.
4. The Section 21 limitation period
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, and during the suspension period, Landlords had 6 months to bring a possession claim to court following the issue of a Section 21 Notice. For notices issued on or after 29 August 2020, Landlords have 10 months to bring a possession claim relying on a Section 21 Notice (with the exception of periodic tenancies with a requirement of more than 6 months’ notice).
5. Not gas safety records
Although it was anticipated that there would be a suspension of gas safety checks, this proved not to be the case. If access to the property was refused due to the tenants self-isolating or shielding, you will need to show records of communications with the tenants, and reports from the engineer that they were refused access due to coronavirus. This is due to landlords still being required to comply with the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 throughout the pandemic.
6. Court proceedings are stayed
If you have already started possession proceedings and submitted a claim form to the court, your claim is ‘on hold’ until 20 September 2020 and will not be considered by a judge until after this date. This date has been changed several times already throughout the pandemic so look out for further extensions to this date.
7. Re-activation notices
To re-activate a stayed claim brought before 3 August 2020, a re-activation notice which complies with CPR Practice Direction 55C needs to be filed at court on or after 20 September 2020 in order to re-start proceedings.
8. Notices for possession claims brought after 3 August 2020
For new or stayed claims brought after 3 August 2020, a notice about the effects of coronavirus on the tenants and any dependants must either be filed with the claim form if using Accelerated Proceedings, or served on the defendant not less than 14 days before the hearing and two copies taken to the hearing when using standard proceedings.
9. Expect delays at court
With 6 months of stayed claims to be heard, a re-activation notice to process for each stayed claim, new claims, and rumours that the courts will be operating at 25% of its previous capacity for possession claims to maintain social distancing, the courts are going to be very busy from 20 September 2020 onwards.
10. How long will it last?
According to the Coronavirus Act 2020 (Residential Tenancies: Protection from Eviction) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020, until 31 March 2021 in England and 20 September 2020 in Wales. Be aware, both of these dates are subject to change.
So what does this all mean if you are a landlord? Serving notices and seeking possession is complicated and is evolving all the time. If you need to serve a notice seeking possession on a tenant or if you have already served a notice and want to bring a possession claim in court, please call us on 0161 696 6229 or complete our online enquiry form and a member of the team will contact you directly.