Covid latest on residential possession proceedings
As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Government has introduced changes which restrict the termination of residential tenancies in England and Wales, each region having slightly different rules.
Initial stay on possession proceedings
Back in March 2020, it was well reported that all claims for possession of property (excluding a few special cases) were subject to a blanket stay of 90 days. That meant that once proceedings were started, an automatic stay, until 20 September this year was in place, meaning the Court would not take any further steps progressing the claim until after this date.
The 20 September date has passed and the stay no longer remains in place. So what are the current rules on possession proceedings?
Practice Direction 55C of the Civil Procedure Rules, which has been in place since 20 September 2020 requires a claimant to file and serve a "reactivation notice", informing the Court that they wish their claim to be listed, re-listed, heard or referred. The notice must only be filed if the claim was brought before 3 August 2020. The notice requires landlords to inform the Court whether they have any knowledge (if any) of how the Covid -19 pandemic has affected the tenant and their dependants.
In theory, landlords can write "no knowledge" of the effect the pandemic has had on the defendant and the Judge has no discretion to refuse to grant an order on this basis. However, landlords are encouraged to make reasonable enquiries.
Extension to the notice period
On 29 August 2020, the Coronavirus Act 2020 (Residential Tenancies: protection from Eviction) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020 extended the notice period for s21 notices served for tenancies subject to the Housing Act 1988 from three months (previously extended from two months) to six months. That means a landlord will need to wait six months before seeking to recover possession. A landlord must commence possession proceedings within ten months of the service of a notice to quit.
In Wales, the Coronavirus Act 2020 (Assured Tenancies and Assured Shorthold Tenancies, extension of Notice Periods) (Amendment) (Wales) Regulations 2020, that came into force on 29 September 2020 extends the notice period for tenancies falling under the Housing Act 1988 in Wales from three months to six months.
It remains to be seen whether, in light of the second lockdown now in place in England, any further changes are likely to be imposed. But for any landlord seeking repossession of a property subject to the Housing Act 1988, there is now a myriad of procedural hurdles to jump through, with delays both in the notice periods and with the court office backlog. If failure to pay rent is the problem and it is thought that the tenant has the means to pay, then there is nothing to stop a landlord sueing for rent as an alternative.