The Coronavirus Act 2020 (‘the Act’) came into force on 25 March 2020. It has introduced a number of important temporary restrictions limiting the ability of landlords of residential properties to take back possession of their property during the current National Emergency. The restrictions are probably not as far reaching as many tenants would have hoped for especially given many have lost their income through no fault of their own. Plus many tenants will have been told to shield themselves for at least 12 weeks if they have an underlying health condition which makes them vulnerable.
Specifically Section 81 of the Act introduces Schedule 29, which provides that in most cases, at least three months’ notice will now have to be given. The extended notice requirements will apply for the duration of the “relevant period” which is defined to run from 26 March 2020 and ending on 30 September 2020. But this is subject to an extension depending upon matters beyond anyone’s control during these extremely difficult times.
So for example in the case of a section 8 Housing Act 1988 notice based on rent arrears, previously a claim for recovery of possession could have been commenced after just two weeks from the date of service of a s.8 notice. Now the earliest date on which possession proceedings can begin cannot be earlier than the expiry of the period of three months from the date of service of the notice. Importantly for the notice to be valid it must specify a lawful date when served i.e. one giving the required 3 months notice.
Similarly, the two months’ notice ordinarily required under a section 21 notice (typically known as the ‘no fault notice’) given in relation to an assured shorthold tenancy is extended to three months. Similar provision is made in relation to Rent Act tenancies (for which a notice need not necessarily have been given) as well as Secure, Flexible, Demoted and Introductory tenancies.
Importantly, no restriction appears to be placed upon recovery of possession as against trespassers (whether it be those who have entered unlawfully into possession, or those who have simply remained in occupation following the expiry of a mere licence).
In practical terms whether the Courts will still be hearing residential possession claims remains to be seen during the current crisis. No matter what the provisions of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 will clearly remain in force i.e. it will still be unlawful to try and evict a tenant forcible from their home without a Court Order and any Landlord that tries could face criminal sanctions. Plus will the County Court bailiffs be operating and if they are, how will the Courts deal with applications to suspend warrants, especially when the opportunities for tenants to obtain free legal advice will be severely limited.
In summary, there is a clear conflict between the Government’s unequivocal message to ‘Stay at Home’ and the ability of Landlords to take back their properties. Whilst the Government has not gone for a complete ban on evictions at the present time, in practical terms it is difficult to see how any successful possession can be achieved.