Coronavirus Act 2020: Emergency legislation on evictions
Litigation Executive Hayley Gaffney explains the latest developments on new legislation on evictions, which has been launched through the Coronavirus Act 2020, and what it means for landlords and tenants.
Following Royal Assent of emergency coronavirus legislation on 25 March, the Coronavirus Act 2020 has become an Act of Parliament with immediate effect. It states that it is in force until 30 September 2020 but this is subject to the ability for it to be extended as necessary.
Section 81 and Schedule 29 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 includes a lot of information and amendment to existing legislation. It is titled ‘Residential tenancies in England and Wales: protection from eviction’.
In a nutshell, the following provisions are perhaps of most interest to both landlords and tenants:
1. Three-month notice period
A three-month notice period will now apply to any notice to quit or notice seeking possession under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977, the Housing Act 1985 and the Housing Act 1988. There is also the power for the Secretary of State to alter the three-month period to a six-month period.
2. Legislation applies to all notices
The legislation applies to all notices to quit or notices seeking possession and not, as previously intimated, just those stemming from coronavirus related issues. This includes protected tenancies, statutory tenancies, assured tenancies and periodic tenancies.
3. Ongoing proceedings are affected
Ongoing possession proceedings and/or those currently issued or lodged with the Court were previously unaffected. However, on 27 March, the Master of the Rolls announced that all possession proceedings are to be suspended for 90 days, with the potential for this period to be extended. The suspension will affect both new and existing claims.
The courts have now also classified applications to stay existing possession orders and applications to suspend warrants of possession as Priority 1 cases. In other words, these cases must be dealt with. The Lord Chief Justice has advised judges that they should not be making any order which risks impacting on public health during the period of national crisis.
4. Notices issued prior to the legislation are unaffected
Any notices issued prior to the legislation coming into force are also unaffected and possession proceedings can be commenced as normal. However, there are also likely to be significant delays with these being issued and/or dealt with by the Court.
New guidance issued by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has confirmed that notices issued prior to the legislation coming into force are unaffected, but any ensuing possession proceedings will be subject to the 90-day suspension.
5. Three-month notice period for section 8 and 21 notices
Both section 8 and section 21 notices must provide a three-month notice period (together with the previous service requirements and dates) irrespective of the ground (for section 8 notices).
The new Ministry of Housing guidance strongly advises landlords not to commence new notices seeking possession during this period without the landlord having a very good reason to do so.
6. No provision for rent relief
There is no provision for rent relief for tenants. Even if a tenant is unable to pay rent as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, a landlord is still entitled to serve notice – albeit it with the new three-month notice period. This does not, of course, stop landlords from offering payment breaks or instalment plans to their tenants to assist them if they know they are struggling financially during this period.
7. New possession proceedings can be issued
New possession proceedings can be issued provided that the landlord has complied with the notice period and the other requirements set out in the legislation. This includes serving notice of intention to commence proceedings on some types of tenancies.
However, all possession proceedings have now been suspended for 90 days and this applies to new, as well as existing, claims. There is also extended pre-action protocol on possession proceedings in the pipeline, which will require landlords to reach out to their tenants to understand their financial position before issuing court proceedings.
The legislation makes it is more important than ever for landlords to seek the appropriate help and guidance if they feel that they must serve notice on their tenants for any number of reasons.
Coodes’ Disputes Team can assist with this and offer a number of fixed fees for this type of work. Please contact Hayley Gaffney at email@example.com who specialises in this area of work and she will be able to assist you.