COVID-19 evictions ban promise “watered down” in Coronvirus Act
On 18 March, housing secretary Robert Jenrick announced emergency legislation to protect renters experiencing financial difficulties as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. With businesses across the UK forced to close or experiencing plummeting demand, employees are feeling the hit to their finances caused by redundancy, unpaid leave or reduced work. Previously, new Chancellor Rishi Sunak had outlined plans to introduce a three-month ‘mortgage holiday’ for struggling homeowners, leaving worried renters concerned that they would not receive the same level of support.
However, it was later confirmed that urgent new laws would be passed banning landlords from evicting private tenants from their rental properties for a period of at least three months. In addition, the three-month mortgage payment holiday originally earmarked for residential homeowners was extended to Buy to Let mortgages, meaning that landlords would be less likely to put pressure on tenants due to their own mortgage repayment concerns. The government also called on landlords to “show compassion” to struggling tenants and to allow them to remain in their home “wherever possible” (1)
Schedule 29 of the Coronavirus Act 2020, referred to in Section 81, extends the notice period a landlord must give a tenant before starting eviction proceedings, which will apply from the day after the passing of the Act until 30 September 2020 (i.e. “the relevant period”). In other words, proceedings to obtain an order allowing a landlord to repossess their property cannot be commenced unless the criteria outlined in the Act are satisfied, the main one being the extended notice period.
Meanwhile, eviction proceedings currently in court are not affected by the new laws, so some tenants could potentially still be evicted during this period.
Exceptions to the rules
Furthermore, it must be emphasised that the Act does not completely ban the commencement of proceedings. In fact, the ambiguity of the provisions invite scope for possession proceedings to potentially be commenced without compliance with the Act’s notice requirements if the Court considers it just and equitable to dispense with the requirement to comply.
This section of the Act is likely to cause a great deal of uncertainty among landlords, as it has not been made clear what the test is to satisfy this threshold, leaving landlords confused as to the conditions under which they may or may not initiate proceedings.
We will continue to monitor the situation and provide an update should things become any clearer in the coming weeks.
Preparing for the end of emergency measures
While the three-month period will still offer a temporary reprieve to tenants faced with losing their home, it will not exempt them from eventually having to pay their rent, or from being evicted if they are unable to do so. It is therefore vitally important that tenants and landlords open talks as early as possible to find a fair and affordable repayment plan that does not put renters into further financial difficulties and allows landlords to recoup their losses. With many renters suffering from a drop in their income, it’s all the more important for both parties to work together to come to a solution.
Disputes may arise
Despite government advice, it is likely that there will be a rise in landlord-tenant disputes when the notice period outlined in the Coronavirus Act expires, as landlords attempt to recoup their lost income. In order to prevent such disputes, the government has been working with the Master of the Rolls to widen and strengthen the ‘pre-action protocol’, or the set of actions landlords are obliged to follow before commencing possession proceedings, by extending it to both private and social renters. It is expected that this move will encourage landlords to reach out to their tenants to gain an understanding of their financial position.
Where disputes cannot be resolved through communication, however, a specialist dispute resolution solicitor may be required to help the two parties come to an agreement.
We can help
We are facing unprecedented times, and here at Attwaters Jameson Hill we are aware that any disputes that arise between landlords and tenants will need to be dealt with sensitively and with due consideration for the opinions and financial situations of both parties. Our solicitors have years of experience in acting for both landlords and tenants to resolve a wide range of disputes, and will always aim to come to a solution out of court. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0203 871 0017 for sound, compassionate advice.