Following emergency legislation in March 2020, intended to protect residential tenants from eviction during the COVID-19 lockdown (see our blog here) the government has announced further measures to ease the pressure on tenants who continue to feel the social and economic impact of the pandemic.
Six month notice period
From 29 August 2020, landlords must provide at least six months’ notice to tenants in order to seek possession through the courts (with some exceptions, as to which see below). This applies to both the private and social rented sectors in England and will last until March 2021.
Landlords can serve a section 21 notice to terminate a tenancy following the initial fixed term without an underlying reason. These are used for assured shorthold tenancies. Prior to the pandemic, the section 21 notice gave tenants two months’ notice to leave a property before the landlord could seek possession. The notice period was extended in March of this year to three months. Now, where section 21 notices are served, landlords must provide at least six months’ notice to seek possession, until 31 March next year. Any such notices that were served prior to 28 August 2020 are not affected by these changes and must have given at least three months’ notice.
There are some exceptions to the new six month rule. For anti-social behaviour, landlords can give four weeks’ notice to seek possession. For domestic abuse and false statement cases, two to four weeks’ notice. For over six months’ accumulated rent arrears, four weeks’ notice is required, and where there has been a breach of the “Right to Rent” immigration and right-to-remain rules, the period is three months’ notice.
Further stay on possession proceedings
The stay on possession proceedings has been extended until 20 September 2020, bringing the total period of protection to six months. Once this stay is lifted, more detailed guidance will be made available.
It is important to note that for possession claims made prior to 3 August 2020, the claim can only proceed if the landlord notifies the court and the tenant that the landlord still intends to seek possession based on the original claim. This includes section 21 cases.
Tenants are still expected to pay the rent where they are able to do so, and they should not rely on this amended legislation to avoid paying their rent, especially given the time-limited nature of these changes.
The amended legislation further protects tenants due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The corollary is that landlords will be able to recover possession of their properties more quickly where the tenant is in serious breach of the tenancy agreement. This balancing of interests will again be under scrutiny when the government brings forward its proposed Renters Reform Bill which is set to abolish section 21 altogether. Whether the Bill will achieve the aim of balancing greater security of tenure for tenants against the ability of landlords to recover their properties remains to be seen.
Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988.
Legislation: The Coronavirus Act 2020 (Residential Tenancies: Protection from Eviction)(Amendment)(England) Regulations 2020 (SI 2020/914)