The Government has been concerned for some time as to the risk of a considerable number of evictions and homeless people arising from the effects of the pandemic, especially if there is an increase in cases over the winter.
Notice periods for possession were increased in March and a stay on most possession proceedings is in force until 20 September 2020, and may of course be extended again.
Last week, in a quick move to provide further protections to residential tenants, the Schedule 29 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 was amended to provide:
- All new notices pursuant to Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 (the non-fault based way to obtain possession of a property following the expiry of a tenancy) must now be 6 months; and
- A notice seeking possession on the grounds of rent arrears pursuant to Section 8 of the Housing Act 1988 cannot be served until there are 6 months’ rent outstanding. Once arrears reach this level the notice period is 4 weeks.
These changes remain apply from 29 August 2020 and are in force until 31 March 2021 – again unless extended further. Any notices served before this date pursuant to the previous rules remain valid.
Other amendments apply in more unusual circumstances but it appears cases involving anti-social behaviour and domestic violence will be prioritised and capable of being progressed, and otherwise landlords face a long battle to recover possession of their property. It is feared that even when notices expire and proceedings are issued (after the stay is lifted) the limited Court resources and backlog of cases will delay possession actually being obtained for a lengthy period of time.
It is of course understandable what the Government is trying to achieve but currently all of the impact of these changes fall on the landlord – many of whom are not large commercial entities and who may be in a precarious financial position themselves.
What happens next remains to be seen…