Extra protection to tenants during the Covid-19 pandemic

|| Cllr Barrister Nazir Ahmed FRSA ||

There was a long established law that the landlords must give minimum 2-months’ Notice period required for Section 21 Notice in order to end the tenancy. This was changed due to coronavirus pandemic. The Coronavirus Act 2020 was passed on an emergency basis, Royal Assent received on 25 March 2020 and it came into force the following day.The purpose of the Act was, among others, to give extra protection to tenants during the Covid19 pandemic. Section 29 of the Act amended certain Sections under the Housing Acts 1985, 1988 and 1996, as well as the Rent Act 1977. These amendments extended the Notice period for any Notice served by the landlord seeking possession from two-months to three-months. That means a landlord cannot commence possession proceedings until a three-month period has passed. However, Notices served before 26 March 2020 are still valid. But from 27 March 2020 to 23 August 2020 (initially it was for 3 months, then the government, on 05 June 2020, has extended it for 2 more months to 23 August 2020 and it may be extended further) all possession proceedings going through the courts are suspended.

The Act will apply to all Notices to quit and Notices seeking possession. Any Notice served from 26 March 2020 in connection with a protected and statutory tenancy, a secure tenancy, an assured tenancy (including assured shorthold), a flexible tenancy, a demoted tenancy or introductory tenancy must have a Notice period of three months. This applies to all grounds for possession including anti-social behaviour. There are new updated prescribed forms for Section 8 and Section 21.This does not only relate to those Notices which have arisen due to the coronavirus. Although the Act will not affect any ongoing possession proceedings or Notices issued prior to the Act, all proceedings will be adjourned as, from 27 March, housing possession cases going through the courts are being suspended.

On 26 March 2020 it was announced that the Master of Rolls and Lord Chancellor had agreed to suspend all ongoing housing possession actions for 90 days, with no exclusions. The next day, Practice Direction 51Z was issued, which states that, amongst other matters, all proceedings for housing possession brought under CPR Part 55 and all proceedings seeking to enforce an order for possession by a warrant or writ of possession are stayed for a period of 90 days, from 27 March 2020. In Arkin v Marshall & Anr [2020] EWCA Civ 620, the Court of Appeal held that the Practice Direction was lawful and not ultra vires. As mentioned above, the government has extended the stay for further 60 days.

It is important for tenants to know that a landlord cannot evict a tenant without a court order. However, landlords cannot now ask their tenants to leave without one and that being served with a Notice does not mean that they have to leave once the three months has expired. Rather, it means that landlords cannot apply to the court for possession until the three months’ period has passed.

It is worth mentioning that the Act provides for a pause in possession actions, but it does not stop the process indefinitely and tenants are still required to pay rent. It allows for some limited protection but there is an expectation consistent with the legislation that there should be communications early on if tenants are experiencing difficulties in paying rents. The landlords and tenants are advised to have open and honest conversations about rent payments which are still due. These conversations ideally could include the financial hardships being faced by tenants, reasonable rent payments and repayments schedules.  

We have been facing unprecedented challenges that nobody has ever contemplated.  We should all be supportive to each other to overcome those challenges.

Cllr Barrister Nazir Ahmed is a renowned lawyer, writer, analyst and public representative.

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