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Residential Possession claims and COVID-19

25.03.2020

Kuljit Bhogal & Andy Lane from Cornerstone Barristers' Housing and Public Law Teams describe the changes proposed by the Government in order to reduce or eliminate possession claims and their enforcement during this time of crisis.

Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities & Local Government, said on 18 March 2020:

"The government is clear – no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home, nor will any landlord face unmanageable debts.

These are extraordinary times and renters and landlords alike are of course worried about paying their rent and mortgage. Which is why we are urgently introducing emergency legislation to protect tenants in social and private accommodation from an eviction process being started.

These changes will protect all renters and private landlords ensuring everyone gets the support they need at this very difficult time."

On the 23 March 2020 amendments to the Coronavirus Bill were produced and included the legislative amendments required to bring the Secretary of State's aspiration into effect, and these can be seen at Schedule 29 of the Bill introduced into the House of Lords the following day for its 1st reading, after the 3rd reading in the Commons was concluded the day before.

In essence they 'simply' extend the required pre-action notice periods for certain notices, served from the day after the Act is passed until 30 September 2020, to 3 months:

       - Rent Act protected tenancies (notice to quit);
       - Rent Act statutory tenancies (notice of intention to commence proceedings);
       - Notice seeking possession (secure and assured tenancies);
       - Notice seeking possession (secure tenancies – absolute grounds - anti-social behaviour);
       - Notice requiring possession (section 21 – assured shorthold tenancies);
       - Notice of proceedings for possession (introductory tenancies);
       - Notice of proceedings for possession (demoted tenancies);
       - Section 107D notices (flexible tenancies).

  • The Bill provides for the ability of a court to dispense with the requirement for the notice in statutory tenancy, and no amendments are proposed to that power in cases of secure (section 83(1)(b), Housing Act 1985) and assured tenancies (section 8(1)(b), Housing Act 1988) re notices seeking possession.

  • The power to issue proceedings immediately after a notice seeking possession has been served in cases where there has been anti-social behaviour, or a conviction using the premises for an illegal/immoral purpose or an indictable offence committed in or in the locality of the dwelling house, (Ground 2 -secure tenancies or Ground 14 -assured tenancies), has been ended.

  • The Secretary of State will have the power to make further or additional changes by statutory instrument including the power to alter the reference to three months to any period up to six months. At present there is no information on what would happen to three-month notices that have already been served .

We are awaiting the widening of the Pre-action Protocol for Possession Claims by Social Landlords to include the private rented sector, but the proposals as they presently stand:

  1. Do not of themselves prevent evictions during the next few months because those cases already begun may proceed to enforcement (though there may be a practical obstacle in terms of the use of bailiffs/sheriffs during the "Covid-19" period).

  2. Notices served pre-the Act coming into force can be used to start possession proceedings.

  3. The power of the court to dispense with the requirement for a notice seeking possession remains.

The Housing Team at Cornerstone Barristers will be available for informal telephone conversations, and are well set-up to take on formal Instructions whether that be with regard to Advices or court hearings. Contact can be made on 020 7242 4986 / 0333 240 0591 or by e-mailing our clerks