By now, landlords will be familiar with the eviction ban first introduced by the Coronavirus Act 2020. Evictions were banned altogether for a period, although the courts have now started to hear eviction claims again. Notice periods to be given by landlords to tenants have also been affected.
Initially, the period of notice landlords had to give to their tenants was extended to three months from the usual two. This notice period has been further extended and now stands at six months.
What are the current rules on evictions?
Landlords currently need to give most tenants at least six months’ notice before they can start the court process to obtain possession of a property if a tenant does not leave voluntarily. These rules apply to the shortened assured shorthold procedure. Where there are breaches of a tenancy agreement, then it is open to landlords to use the longer Section 8 procedure, which still allows for shorter notice periods to be given but involves more complex court procedures if matters get to that stage.
On September 10, the Westminster government confirmed an exception for areas in local lockdown. In these areas bailiffs will not enforce eviction orders giving tenants a stay of execution even if a court has ordered that the landlord should be given possession of the property. In all areas there is a provision that no evictions will take place over the Christmas period or in the run-up to it.
What do the new rules mean for landlords?
The good news for landlords is that the courts are now hearing eviction claims again. However, there is a huge backlog of claims in the courts and notice periods are currently far longer than they have been for many years. The combined effect is that landlords are unlikely to be able to regain possession of a property quickly, even if a tenant is in substantial arrears of rent. The standard notice period is six months, with four week notice periods available if a tenant is in arrears of rent for more than six months.
If landlords do bring a claim before the courts they must include evidence in the court application as to how their tenant’s circumstances have been affected by Coronavirus.
Many tenants have found themselves in financial difficulties due to the impact of Coronavirus on the economy and job market. This has a knock-on effect on landlords, who have found themselves with significant rent arrears mounting up and no means of regaining possession of the property.
The government has recognised the impact on landlords to a limited extent. The government has asked the courts to prioritise the most serious cases, for example where there has been anti-social behaviour or rent arrears are in excess of one year’s rent and landlords would face unmanageable debt without the court action. Homes clearly need to be protected but it can be argued that the government should have done more to recognise and mitigate the effect of the downturn in the economy on landlords, who have been faced with rent arrears and no prospect of recovering possession of their properties.
What support is available?
Some landlords may have been able to claim for support through the SEISS scheme, although this has now been reduced to a minimal level by the government. Landlords who employ staff may also have been able to use the furlough scheme. The government has brought in some help for renters, which should have a knock-on effect on landlords by helping tenants to pay their rents.
It is vital that landlords stay on top of property management throughout this unprecedented challenging period. Landlords should ensure that they continue to carry out pre-letting inventory checks and interim inspections, keeping full records of the state and condition of the property and tending to urgent issues.
InventoryBase’s property management software is more useful than ever in helping landlords keep down their costs. The ability to even complete self-service reports enables any works to be carried out as efficiently and effectively as possible. Of course, if a landlord is unfortunate enough to encounter problems with a tenant other than rent arrears, full inventory records will be essential evidence in possession claims in the courts.