The Coronavirus Act 2020 (‘the Act’) was introduced to enable public bodies to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result of the Act, temporary amendments were made to Part 55 of the Civil Procedure Rules and the procedure for bringing possession claims against residential tenants. Initially, all residential possession claims were stayed i.e. cannot proceed any further for a period of 90 days, from 27 March 2020, until 25 June 2020. This stay was then extended until 23 August 2020 and then again until 20 September 2020. This meant that any new claims brought (‘issued’) at court during this period were automatically stayed, as were any existing claims already in the system.
The most noticeable changes to the process were as follows:-
Claims brought before 3 August 2020
For all claims that were brought (‘issued’) on or before 3 August 2020, one of the parties must (a) serve a ‘reactivation notice’ confirming that they wish the case to either be listed, relisted, heard or referred to a judge and (b) set out what knowledge they have of the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic on the Defendants (tenants).
New and stayed claims brought on or after 3 August 2020
For all claims brought on or after 3 August 2020, there is no requirement for an activation notice but at least 14 days prior to the hearing, the landlord must serve on the tenant a notice setting out what knowledge they have as to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the tenant and their dependents. For accelerated possession claims, this information must be served on the tenant with the claim form.
The purpose of these changes were to avoid anybody being evicted and losing their homes during the pandemic where the latter has had a detrimental effect to the financial circumstances of many people who may be struggling to pay rent and mortgage repayments. The effect of these changes will mean a significant backlog within the court system and an additional 200 deputy district judges have been drafted in to assist with the many claims that will need to be processed now that the stay has been lifted. It is hoped that court centres will be able to allocate the same number of courtrooms and days per week to possession proceedings as before March 2020.
Additional implications of the Act on Landlords – Notice of Possession
Prior to the Act, landlords were required to serve their tenants with at least two months’ written notice, in the ‘prescribed’ form, if they were seeking to claim a ‘no-fault’ eviction, pursuant to section 21 of the Housing Act 1988. Whilst the Act did not prevent landlords from serving notices, it initially implemented changes requiring a landlord to provide three months’ notice to tenants. From 29 August 2020, landlords will now be required to provide their tenants with six months’ notice terminating their residential tenancy agreement, before they can issue a claim. This temporary increase in notice period will be in place until at least 31 March 2021.
The guidance suggests that where tenants are having difficulties or are unable to pay their rent that landlords do not issue a notice seeking possession where their financial circumstances have been directly affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
There is, however, no requirement for landlords to stop charging rent during the pandemic as most tenants will be able to continue paying rent and will be contractually obliged to do so. If, therefore, you are a landlord that has a tenant who is not paying rent yet is financially able to do so, you may want to consider serving notice for possession sooner rather than later.
If you are a landlord of property housing residential tenants and would like to discuss your options in relation to the above, please contact Lucy Milton-Downes on 01823 288121 or firstname.lastname@example.org, as she would be happy to talk to you and is offering free-half hour no obligation telephone appointments.