Landlords are swiftly becoming used to the new legal landscape following the Coronavirus Act 2020 and its moratorium on forfeiture for missed commercial lease payments (see our Tip of the Week).
However, what has been less widely reported is that in taking action to implement the moratorium (together with the corresponding moratorium on possession for residential premises), the Courts have put in place a general freeze on possession proceedings – one which goes beyond the measures set out in the Act.
Under the new Court Practice Direction PD 51Z, which came into force on 27 March, all possession proceedings brought under CPR Part 55 and all proceedings seeking to enforce an order for possession by warrant or writ of possession were stayed for a period of 90 days. That appeared to cover:-
- Possession proceedings against squatters
- All commercial lease possession proceedings, regardless of why possession is being sought (i.e. not limited to forfeiture for missed lease payments)
- Possession proceedings against former tenants at will or licensees.
New possession claims may be brought, but it appears that the Court will now automatically stay any proceedings which are issued.
After requests for clarification, particularly in relation to claims against squatters which are likely to increase given the large number of commercial premises now sitting empty, the Practice Direction was amended as from 20 April to exclude proceedings against squatters from the stay.
In relation to other cases, the restrictions remain. If possession is required and cannot be effected by peaceable re-entry of the premises, landlords should be aware that there are likely to be considerable delays.