UPDATE: HEAD TO OUR NEW BLOG POST FOR CURRENT GUIDANCE.
Coronavirus has changed the rules for evicting a tenant in England and Wales. New measures have also been announced in Scotland. If a landlord has decided they wish to evict a tenant, they must now consider the following developments before attempting to do so.
Coronavirus Act (2020)
This emergency legislation was passed on 25th March and commenced the next day, 26th March. The Act has temporarily amended the Housing Act (1988) so that the notice period landlords must give tenants when seeking possession of the property is now three months. This is up one month from the usual two months that were required for most tenancies before the Coronavirus Act was passed.
Once the three-month notice period expires, landlords will still have to apply to court for a possession order as usual in order to begin the legal repossession process. Landlords are currently being advised by the government not to apply to court or continue with ongoing evictions during the coronavirus emergency.
The law extending notice periods to three months applies to all Section 8 and 21 notices served from 26th March to 30th September. This period will be reviewed and may be extended.
This law applies to Assured Shorthold Tenancies and the other common tenancy types. However, most lodger arrangements and other less common tenancy types (including company lets) are excluded.
Staying of Possession Claims in the Courts
In addition to the longer notice period, an administrative decision was made on 27th March to stay all possession proceedings for 90 days.
Landlords who already have a possession case in progress (e.g. were waiting for a possession order or warrant for possession to be issued by the court) will not be able to progress their claim for a 90 day period from the 27th March. This period could be extended.
The same applies to landlords who have served notice which expired after 27th March; they will not be able to apply to court for the 90 day period, and perhaps longer if the period is extended, which seems likely.
Landlords who own their own home will enjoy the same protections from eviction. That is, mortgagers will not be able to bring cases against homeowners or leaseholders.
This decision to stay possession claims was made on public health grounds. It was thought no longer safe to require parties to attend court due to the risk of coronavirus infection.
The government guidance is for tenants to continue paying rent as normal if this is possible. If the tenant has been affected by coronavirus and is no longer able to pay the full rent, then the official advice is for the landlord and tenant to speak as soon as possible and come to an agreement on how to proceed.
Tenants cannot be removed for having the virus or its symptoms. Tenants seeking rent reductions or altered rent payment plans do not need to prove that they have the virus or have faced hardship because of it.
Social distancing measures will make it more difficult than usual for landlords to find new tenants. Ending a tenancy, inspecting the property and moving home all increase the risk of coming into contact with coronavirus. Landlords must fully consider these reasons before attempting to evict a tenant. If it is at all possible to keep the tenancy going during this time, the government advice is to do so. Tenants are likewise advised not to move home unless necessary. Tenants can still serve notice to end the tenancy.
How OpenRent Is Helping
OpenRent’s coronavirus guidance content is being kept up to date and relevant to UK tenants and landlords. As an online service, we are very well placed to support tenants looking for new homes and landlords looking for new tenants while social distancing measures are in place.
We have added a ‘rent pause’ button for users of our rent collection service. The button makes it easy for landlords who have come to temporary arrangements with their tenants. It pauses rent-chasing emails while allowing tenants to continue paying a reduced amount of rent and keeping track of how much is paid versus how much would usually be due. This will aid the creation of any repayment plans agreed once this period has passed.