Since the first lockdown was imposed in March 2020 there have been a number of changes to the procedures relating to possession actions in respect of residential properties. The purpose was principally to alleviate the difficulties for tenants faced with possible unemployment or furloughing. As the situation has progressed some of the measures which were introduced have now been terminated, e.g. between March and September 2020 the courts were not hearing possession actions. Other measures have either been retained or modified.

Landlords need to be aware of the current situation, particularly in respect of notice periods, and they need to be alert for changes in the future. I set out the main changes below. I have confined my comments to assured shorthold tenancies (AST’s) as they are the most common form of tenancy.

Evictions

The first point to note is that currently bailiffs cannot carry out evictions save in very limited circumstances. The limited circumstances include where the order for possession is on the following grounds: anti-social behaviour; nuisance or annoyance; illegal or immoral use of property; domestic violence; obtaining the tenancy by a false statement; more than 9 months’ rent arrears, which have accrued prior to 23 March 2020, if the warrant is based on a possession order made before 11 January 2021; or more than 6 months’ rent arrears if the order is made after 11 January 2021.

This ban on evictions is due to end on 21 February 2021, but could be extended again following a government review.

Notices

The most common notices are Section 21 and Section 8 notices and I will deal with each in turn.

Section 21 Notices

A landlord must now give a minimum of 6 months’ notice and must start any action within 4 months of the date of the notice.

Before the initial lockdown the minimum notice period was 2 months. Between 26 March and 28 August 2020 the notice period was 3 months.

Section 8 Notices

On or after 29 August 2020 the notice period is a minimum of 6 months if the arrears of rent are less than 6 months’ arrears and a minimum of 4 weeks if the arrears are more than 6 months.

Before the initial lockdown the notice period used to be a minimum of 2 weeks, which was increased to 3 months between 26 March and 28 August 2020.

Court Actions

The effect of the pandemic and, in particular, the suspension of possession proceedings between 26 March and 20 September 2020 has created a substantial backlog of cases. While there is no doubt that the current situation is very frustrating for Landlords, they should always be aware that an illegal eviction of a tenant, i.e. without obtaining a possession order or a warrant for possession, is a criminal offence under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977.

 

This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

If you wish to discuss this or any other matter related to property litigation please contact me on 01435 502011 or email simon.wood@cognitivelaw.co.uk.

Simon Wood

Property Litigation services