With the Covid-19 infection rate continuing to rise, so do the concerns about further restrictions being placed on landlords attempting to regain possession of residential property.

Following the most recent announcement from Robert Jenrick, the Housing Secretary, and with the stay on possession proceedings due to be lifted on 20 September, we have set out the current rules below.

Extended Notice Periods

Under the Coronavirus Act 2020, notice periods given in eviction notices were extended to three months. England has now followed the lead of Scotland and Wales in increasing this notice period to six months for the majority of notices served between 29 August 2020 and 31 March 2021. This may be extended further.

Whilst previously any amendments to the emergency renting legislation have been very focused on tenants, the Government has now recognised that there are certain situations where landlords should be able to give a shorter notice period. These are:

  • where the tenant is being evicted for antisocial behaviour the notice period has reverted to the pre-Coronavirus Act 2020 position i.e. a landlord can issue proceedings on the same day as notice is served
  • where the tenant is accused of domestic abuse, or has provided a false statement resulting in the grant of the tenancy, notice periods will be between two to four weeks’ notice
  • if the tenant has accumulated over six months’ of rent arrears, only four weeks’ notice will be required
  • if it transpires that the tenant has rented a property in breach of the immigration rules under the Right to Rent legislation, they can be evicted on three months’ notice

This is good news for landlords where tenants are causing harm to others, and where there are arrears that pre-date the pandemic.

Proceedings

The Government has said that the stay on proceedings will be lifted on 20 September 2020. However, given the last minute U-turn in August 2020, we would not place too much reliance on this statement.

Any existing proceedings that were brought before 3 August 2020 will need to have reactivation notices served to ensure they proceed, and we talk about this in more detail here. The notices will need to include information on how the tenants have been affected by the pandemic, and if the information is not provided the court will have the power to adjourn proceedings until the information is provided.

New and existing proceedings will be prioritised based on the seriousness of the allegations, and where the eviction is based on rent arrears, the level of the arrears.

Enforcing Evictions

Once a court order for possession has been obtained, landlords can either request that a county court bailiff should carry out the eviction, or request permission from the court for a high court enforcement officer to do so. The latter is more costly, but usually avoids the delays commonly associated with county court bailiffs.

Currently, landlords are also required to give 14 days’ advanced notice of any eviction taking place, regardless of the method used.

Given the increasing rise in positive cases of Covid-19, the government have placed further restrictions on when evictions can take place. If the location of the property is within a local lockdown that includes a restriction on gathering in homes, evictions will not be enforced by bailiffs. It is unclear whether this applies to both county court bailiffs and high court enforcement officers, but the assumption is that it will.

Further, there will be a ‘winter truce’ on enforcement of evictions in the run up to and over Christmas, except in the most serious circumstances. The legislation has not yet been published so we do not have specific dates for when this truce will be in effect.

Summary

The change in notice periods should allow the courts to prioritise new claims coming in, but it does nothing to address the backlog in cases that have been frozen since 25 March 2020.

Enforcement of evictions from the county court bailiffs is some courts were already experiencing a severe backlog, with orders being granted in January 2020 not being diarised for an eviction until May 2020. As no evictions have taken place since March 2020, we are expecting only the most serious of existing cases to result in an eviction before the ‘winter truce’ sets in.