COVID-19: Coronavirus Act 2020 and protection from eviction

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Article

03 April, 2020

The current COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has brought with it an air of uncertainty surrounding job security and the ability to make rental payments in this period. The introduction of the Coronavirus Act 2020 ("the Act") on 25 March 2020, has put some minds at ease and provided protections for residential tenants who are unable to make rental payments due to the coronavirus.

The Coronavirus Act 2020

Section 81 of the Act gives effect to Schedule 29 which makes changes to the notice periods in relation to possession proceedings in respect of certain residential tenancies, namely the following:

Protected and statutory tenancies under the Rent Act 1977;

  • Secure tenancies;
  • Flexible tenancies;
  • Assured tenancies;
  • Assured shorthold tenancies;
  • Introductory tenancies; and
  • Demoted tenancies.

The majority of residential tenancies are entered into as assured or assured shorthold tenancies and often continue following expiry of the term of the tenancy by the operation of law. The Act has changed the provisions for serving a notice to regain possession.

How may a landlord regain possession of their property?

Under normal circumstances, a landlord may regain possession of a leased property under section 8 or section 21 of the Housing Act 1988.

Section 8 proceedings are usually brought where the tenant has rent arrears in excess of two month's rent. Before bringing court proceedings under section 8, the landlord is required to give the tenant at least 14 days' notice.

Alternatively, where the tenancy was entered into for a fixed term and that fixed term has expired, the landlord can seek possession by serving a section 21 notice. This notice must be given to the tenant two months in advance of proceedings being brought and has certain requirements.

What protections has the Coronavirus Act 2020 introduced?

The Act has changed the provisions for serving a notice under sections 8 and 21 of the Housing Act 1988.

Landlords will now be required to give at least three months' notice before they will be allowed to begin court proceedings under section 8 and section 21. If less than three months' notice is given, the courts will most likely find that the notice is ineffective and the landlord will have to serve a correct notice before they can obtain possession.

This is not an indefinite change but serves to offer protection to those who cannot work or pay rent as a result of the current pandemic. The changes take effect between 26 March 2020 and 30 September 2020, but may be subject to further review if the pandemic persists past this date.

Furthermore, paragraph 13 of Schedule 29 gives powers to the Secretary of State to extend the three month notice period to six months or any other period which is less than six months, in order to reduce the burden on residential tenants in these uncertain times.

What about ongoing possession proceedings?

On 27 March 2020, the Master of the Rolls and Lord Chancellor came to an agreement to suspend all ongoing possession proceedings for a period of 90 days. However, this period can be extended if required.

This decision will protect those tenants currently on the receiving end of possession proceedings. Tenants should be aware that they will still be obligated to pay rent and should pay this as usual. However, if a tenant is facing financial hardship they should speak to their landlord to see if they can agree a rent payment scheme.

For more information contact Jordan Davies in our Dispute Resolution department via email or phone on 0333 207 9300. Alternatively send any question through to Forbes Solicitors via our online Contact Form.

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