The eviction ban has ended but landlords should still proceed with caution
In March 2020, the government introduced a series of emergency measures to protect residential tenants from the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic. One of these measures was a ban on residential possession proceedings and eviction, with the aim that “no renter in either social or private accommodation will be forced out of their home during this difficult time”.
Initially for a three-month period, but later extended, no landlord was allowed to commence possession proceedings against their tenants and all existing possession proceedings were stayed. Whilst the stay on possession proceedings was lifted on 20 September 2020, restrictions as to enforcement of possession orders, and therefore evictions, were in place. Save for limited exemptions, such restrictions remained until 1st June 2021.
Restrictions on evictions are lifted
As of 1 June 2021, landlords are permitted to enforce possession orders by way of appointing bailiffs (although bailiffs are asked not to enter a property if anybody inside has reported coronavirus symptoms or is self-isolating).
The notice period landlords are required to give tenants when serving a Section 21 notice from 1 June 2021 has been reduced to four months.
It is important that landlords remember the prescribed requirements before issuing a Section 21 notice, these being to have provided the tenant with an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) free of charge as well as a gas safety record, an up to date How to Rent Guide and prescribed deposit protection information where applicable.
Landlords should also note that, as of 1 June 2021, they must formally commence possession proceedings within eight months of serving a Section 21 notice, as opposed to the 10 months they were given to take court action between 29 August 2020 and 31 May 2021.
The notice periods in relation to Section 8 notices from 1 June 2021 will depend upon the ground that is being relied upon. For example, where a tenant has rent arrears of at least four months, and ground 8 is being relied upon, a landlord is permitted to give just four weeks’ notice. Where rent arrears are less than four months, then a notice period of four months will be applicable, however this notice period is scheduled to further reduce to two months’ notice from 1 August 2021.
It is expected that notice periods will return to their pre-pandemic length by October if restrictions continue to ease as planned.
Practice Direction 55C
Introduced when the stay on possession proceedings was lifted in September last year, Practice Directive 55C sets out the new, ‘interim’ court process landlords must follow until 30 July 2021. The Directive includes rules for the reactivation of stayed possession proceedings and outlines the enhanced information that needs to be served with respect to the effect of the pandemic on a tenant and any dependants.
It will be advisable for landlords to take reasonable steps to obtain information as to the effect of the pandemic on their tenant and any dependants with a view to then setting out any knowledge that they have subsequently obtained, and serving notice of the same upon the courts and also their tenant in accordance with PD55C.
The Review Hearing
A further stage referred to as the Review Hearing has been introduced to the procedure with respect to possession proceedings. At this hearing, if an agreement cannot be reached, the judge will review all paperwork and documentation relating to the case to ensure it is order, with the aim of increasing transparency and information sharing. A landlord will be required to prepare a Review Hearing Bundle, which puts significant extra administrative pressure on landlords as, if the judge finds that the documentation is not in order, the case is highly likely to be dismissed.
Navigating a shifting landscape
For over a year now, the law relating to eviction and possession proceedings has been constantly changing. Even now, we are looking at a very different process, with different legal requirements, to that which applied back in March 2020.
During the pandemic, our Dispute Resolution specialists have assisted many landlords and tenants as they attempt to navigate this shifting legislative landscape, taking a pragmatic approach to advice and endeavouring to resolve disputes as amicably as possible. If you are a landlord looking for a specialist lawyer to guide you through the repossession process in line with current guidance, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0203 871 0110.