After the storm – what happens now that the moratorium on residential evictions has been lifted?
Landlords and tenants of residential properties in England and Wales will know that for some 6 months now possession proceedings have effectively been banned under the novel Coronavirus Act 2020.
Save for incidents of trespass (see our previous article), the moratorium on residential evictions suspended all existing possession proceedings and no orders for possession could be enforced. The suspension came to an end on 20 September 2020, but has the worst of the disruption now passed, or are we simply in the eye of the storm?
For claims filed before 3 August (all of which have been automatically stayed), landlords must serve a ‘Reactivation Notice’ upon their tenant and file at court, otherwise the proceedings will remain suspended.
For new claims, landlords and tenants alike need to be aware of some important changes to the usual notice periods. They are:
- Before 28 August, landlords must give tenants a minimum of 3 months’ notice (up from the usual 2 months)
- But from 28 August (and until at least March 2021) landlords must now give a minimum of 6 months’ notice
- The increased notice period does not apply to the so-called “worst cases”, which include: i) Anti-social behaviour – 4 weeks’ notice ii) Over 6 months of rent arrears (up from the usual 2 months) – 4 weeks’ notice.
When relying on a “worst case” reason, a landlord must convince the court that they were justified in doing so in order to give their tenant shorter notice. How accommodating the court will be to landlords remains to be seen.
Turning to the practicalities of all of this: the storm clouds appear to be brewing once more. Service of a notice may not necessarily be a folly – possession proceedings are not always needed and the tenant may leave of their own accord. But if possession proceedings are required, there is a huge backlog of cases that needs to be cleared by the courts. We anticipate that now that the moratorium has been lifted, the courts will be faced with an avalanche of new possession cases in addition to those already in the system pre-Covid. All of these possession cases also have to share court time with the other cases that fall under the court’s remit. The already congested system will inevitably become clogged further, and we expect long delays in getting to final hearings for possession orders.
But that should not be taken by tenants to be a licence to misbehave. Possession orders can now – and will – be granted by the courts and enforcement action is permitted again. It might just take a little longer than usual to ride out the storm.
If you are a landlord or a tenant and in need of advice on the impact of Covid-19 on your residential tenancy, our experienced Property Litigation team is here to help.