How landlords can prepare for the end of the eviction ban and lifting of possession proceedings
When the Government announced a three-month eviction ban back in March 2020, many of us would have hoped that by the time June came around, life would surely be back to ‘normal’.
However, as lockdown continued and coronavirus showed little sign of respite, the ban on evictions was extended by another two months, until 23rd August. Then, at the very last minute, the eviction ban in England was extended again, until 20th September. Meanwhile, the Welsh government has doubled the notice period to six months, for evictions issued on or after 24th July.
This extended notice period is also expected in England, but at present, no date for the start of this has been provided. The concern is a public health crisis if numerous tenants are made homeless during the winter months. However, the likely reality is that, those landlords considering whether to serve notice, or not, will do so within the immediate future to avoid the extended notice period.
This extension to the eviction ban was welcome news for tenants experiencing financial uncertainty and difficulty. However, for landlords facing their own struggles due to late paying or difficult tenants, it has been a frustrating time.
With the eviction ban ending in just a few days, our property litigation solicitors look at how landlords can best prepare for the commencing of possession proceedings.
Can landlords now resume possession proceedings?
Despite the eviction ban, throughout the pandemic, landlords have still been able to serve notice for possession. However, the Coronavirus Act 2020 extended the notice period to three months as opposed two months or less (until 30th September 2020).
The law states that residential tenants cannot be evicted without a court order. Therefore, the concept of a ‘ban’ has applied when a landlord continues (after the expiry of notice) to issue possession proceedings with the court. From 26th March 2020, an automatic stay (pause) applies to all possession proceedings (save for a few exceptions). Accordingly, there has been no progress within the majority of possession proceedings which were issued on or after 26th March 2020.
This stay is due to end on 20th September 2020. As a result, from 21st September 2020, possession proceedings will resume, subject to the new process, unless of course there is a further extension!
What is the new process for possession proceedings?
A new Practice Direction 55C has been introduced. This temporarily modifies Part 55 of the Civil Procedure Rules, which outlines the process landlords must follow for possession proceedings.
In summary, 55C states that, despite the lifting of the stay, possession proceedings issued prior to 3rd August 2020 will not automatically resume and the landlord is required to file a ‘reactivation notice’.
There is no prescribed form for the notice, but it must include certain information, including a request for the case to be listed and what effect the coronavirus pandemic has had on the parties. If no notice is served by 4pm on 29th January 2021, the claim will be automatically stayed.
Where a claim includes rent arrears, a rent statement for the last two-year period will also be necessary.
Where there is already a final possession order, there is no requirement for a reactivation notice.
For new possession claims or those which were stayed on or after 3rd August 2020, no reactivation notice is needed. However, with the claim form and/or prior to the hearing, a landlord must serve a notice detailing, to their knowledge, the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on the tenant.
For both landlords and tenants, timing is an important factor. With proceedings, the new direction temporarily removes the standard eight-week timescale from the issue of proceedings to the listed hearing. Instead, only 21 days’ notice of the hearing is required. Although this is likely to assist the court with the expected backlog, it does not provide the parties with timescales for the proceedings. These temporary adjustments will remain in place for an interim period, from 20th September until 28th March 2021.
How can landlords recover unpaid rent?
Many renters will have struggled to make ends meet during lockdown, however, that’s little comfort to landlords struggling to pay their own bills as a result of non-paying tenants.
The Government has encouraged landlords to be sympathetic with tenants struggling to pay their rent. However, it is important to note that the terms of your tenancy agreement remain valid, and failure to pay rent will have resulted in arrears accruing.
As a landlord, you have a number of options available to you in this situation, depending on your individual circumstances.
If your tenants fail to keep up with their rent, it’s worth seeking legal advice from a property litigation solicitor as soon as possible. There are various options a specialist lawyer can pursue on your behalf to recover the outstanding payments.
If you’re in a dispute with a tenant, need advice on evicting a tenant or you want practical help on any other matter, our property litigation solicitors in Bristol and South Gloucestershire can help.