This emergency legislation provides for situations designed to tackle the sudden and challenging environment we now find ourselves in.
COVID-19 has posed particular challenges for both landlords and tenants who face uncertainty in the current climate. Tenants are concerned about their ability to pay rent where coronavirus impacts their income or their ability to work due to self-isolation and, of course, they are concerned about whether they may be evicted from their homes.
Schedule 29 of the Act makes provision for protection from eviction under residential tenancies in England and Wales.
What the Act does
Assured Shorthold Tenancies (“ASTs”) are the most common form of tenancy. Landlords can serve notices under Section 8 and Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 (as amended) in order to evict tenants (commonly referred to as a “s.8 notice” and “s.21 notice” respectively).
The Act increases the minimum notice period to end an AST to three months, applicable to both s.8 and s.21 notices, which may be extended by up to six months where the circumstances require.
These changes are effective from commencement of the Act, being 26th March 2020, and therefore do not apply to notices served prior to this date.
Criticism has been made of the provisions in its failings to address the bold statement previously made by Robert Jenrick, the Minister for Housing, Communities and Local Government, that no one would be forced out of their homes during this difficult time.
The primary concern is that the Act extends the length of time it can take to end the tenancy, but does not prevent landlords taking steps to obtain possession of their property after this time, therefore still placing tenants at risk. Notices served prior to commencement of the Act that are due to expire in the next few months will continue to be valid and again the Act does not prevent possession proceedings being brought in respect of those notices.
The Act does not address rent arrears in any way and therefore uncertainty still remains where tenants are not able to meet their rent payments.
Similarly, no answers appear to have been provided as to what happens where notices have been served based upon the new legislation (i.e. giving three months notice to end the tenancy), but the notice period is then extended. It is not clear whether a new notice for the full period of extension would be required to be served, for example, or the notice just extends beyond the three month period to bring it in line with the extended time frame.
The courts’ approach
Following the decision by the Master of the Rolls, from 27th March 2020, all possession actions will be suspended, whether the claim has been issued in court yet or not. This will prevent evictions taking place for 90 days, the initial period of suspension, which falls in line with the new three months notice required by the Act. This can be extended where the circumstances require.
This suspension will prevent landlords obtaining an order for possession, which is legally required before a tenant is required to leave the property. Tenants may still be served with eviction notices (in line with the new legislative requirements), but landlords will be prevented from obtaining possession during this time.
This, however, is likely to create a large backlog of claims once the restrictions posed by COVID-19 have been lifted.
PLEASE NOTE: Due to the nature and circumstances of the current climate, changes are being made regularly. Should you have any queries or concerns regarding this information, please refer to the latest Government guidance.