NB: While accurate at the time of publication, the Government subsequently delayed the implementation of the changes described in this blog post for at least another 4 weeks. Meanwhile, 6-month notice periods are required until March 2021.
New rules in England and Wales on how courts will engage with landlords and tenants during coronavirus are due to begin on 23rd August. The measures, announced in a court ‘Practice Direction’ called PD 55C are intended to deal with the large backlog of possession cases that have built up since possession hearings were stayed in March.
Claims Will Need to Be ‘Reactivated’ to Be Advanced
The first measure announced is that landlords who wish to progress claims that were made before 3rd August will need to ‘reactivate’ the case with a reactivation notice.
Interestingly for landlords, the notice must set out what knowledge the claimant has as to the effect coronavirus has had on the tenant and their dependants. If the eviction is on grounds of rent arrears, then the landlord must also provide an updated rent account for the last two years with the reactivation notice. If the claim is not reactivated by 29th January 2021, the case will be stayed automatically.
Claims Could Take Much Longer to Be Heard
The Practice Direction has also determined that the usual period between issuing a claim and hearing the claim, which is usually eight weeks, will not apply for the period that PD 55C is in place. That period is expected to last until 28th March 2021, but the decision will be reviewed periodically.
What Does PD 55C Mean for Landlords?
It’s going to take longer and require more admin than usual if trying to repossess a property – especially if the claim is based on rent arrears (i.e. a section 8 eviction). Some property experts are recommending professional mediation between landlords and tenants in order to settle disputes without having to rely on the severely backlogged courts.
“The real purpose of the new practice direction appears to be to help the courts to cope with the backlog of cases, and to collect information which will help judges to arrange hearings in ways which make it safe for the parties to participate,” said Robin Stewart, Senior Associate Solicitor at Anthony Gold.
“PD 55C was disappointing to many campaigners because it makes no significant changes to the balance between the rights of landlords and tenants – it’s more about the practical arrangements of court hearings. When you read between the lines of the practice direction, it is clear that the courts are not expecting normal service to resume any time soon.
“The most important detail for landlords is to pay attention to is the requirement to serve a reactivation notice (with details about case management directions and rent arrears where applicable) at least 42 days before any hearing. This means that if a trial date has been listed landlords need to take prompt action, or they will lose the hearing date and their claim will be delayed even further.”
Meanwhile, protections introduced for renters in Scotland have been extended until March 2021. The rules prevent Scottish tenants from being evicted on grounds of rent arrears.