On 25 March 2020 the Government passed emergency legislation in response to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic. The Coronavirus Act 2020 came into force on 26 March and will continue in force until at least 30 September 2020. The Act imposes various restrictions on landlords and protects residential tenants from being evicted during the next 3 months; regardless of any rent arrears or breaches of their tenancy.
What this means for tenants
The Act covers both private and social housing with the following changes being implemented for the protection of residential tenants: –
- Tenants who suffer financial hardship and are unable to keep up with their rent payments will be offered statutory protection from eviction during the next 3 months.
- Any notice to quit or notice seeking possession under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977, the Housing Act 1985 and the Housing Act 1998 must have a minimum notice period of 3 months. This means that no landlord can commence possession proceedings until at least 3 months have passed since service of the initial notice.
- On 27 March 2020 it was announced that all ongoing possession proceedings, or those shortly due to enter the Court system, will be suspended for a minimum period of 90 days.
- The Act reserves the power for the Secretary of State to increase this period should it later become necessary.
What this means for landlords
This legislation will no doubt create an element of concern for many landlords who now potentially face several months of unpaid rent. Whilst landlords are afforded some temporary relief from mortgage providers, there remains an increased risk that tenants will be unable to pay their arrears at the end of the 3-month period.
- Landlords can continue to serve notices on their tenants provided at least 3 months’ notice is given. However, the Ministry of Housing guidance strongly advises landlords not to serve new notices seeking possession during this period unless they have a very good reason to do so.
- Landlords must ensure they use the new forms which reflect the current changes between now and 30 September 2020; any old notices served may be deemed invalid.
- Whilst all ongoing possession proceedings are on hold for 90 days, a party is still able to apply to Court for an order for possession in limited and exceptional circumstances.
- Where a landlord has served a notice, such as a section 8 or section 21 notice, prior to this Act coming into force, he is still able to issue proceedings for possession. However, any claims issued will be subject to the same 90-day suspension as those existing proceedings in the Court system.
Advice for landlords and tenants
- Tenants continue to be liable for their rent and will be responsible for any arrears at the end of the 3-month period.
- The Act does not offer complete rent relief and the obligation for a tenant to pay rent still remains. Tenants are therefore encouraged to keep up with rent payments where possible and, if they unable to do so, they should endeavour to reach agreement with the landlord so as to avoid future threat of eviction.
- Landlords remain legally obligated to ensure properties meet the required standard and all urgent, essential health and safety repairs should be carried out.
In light of the legislation it appears more important than ever for landlords and tenants to seek appropriate help and guidance on issues surrounding eviction and possession proceedings.