On 29 August 2020 the Government introduced changes which restricted the termination of residential tenancies; possession proceedings were stayed until 20 September 2020 and all forms of possession proceedings were lifted with effect from 21 September 2020.
Residential landlords should, however, be mindful of the restrictions which remain in place:
• Under a Section 21 Notice a landlord must provide 6 months’ notice to terminate an assured short hold tenancy. This applies to any notice that was served on or after 29 August 2020 and these restrictions will remain in place until 31 March 2021.
• On 8 January 2021 the Government extended the suspension of bailiff evictions until at least 21 February 2021. Bailiffs will be allowed to attend properties to execute a warrant of possession in instances of trespass, death of the tenant, unoccupied property, anti-social behaviour involving the tenant, or where substantial rent arrears have accumulated, and the measures remain under continuous review.
For landlords of commercial properties, forfeiture can no longer be used as a remedy for rent arrears, and the Government’s stay on termination of commercial tenancies has been extended until 31 March 2021.
From 21 September 2020, the Government’s stay on possession proceedings was lifted which gives the green light for possession proceedings to be issued. Existing proceedings can also be reactivated in accordance with Practice Direction 55C of the Civil Procedure Rules 1998.
However, this welcome return does bring with it some additional hurdles as landlords who are bringing possession claims will face new steps in the process:
• There will be a review date when the Court will consider whether to list the claim for a hearing
• Cases will be listed in priority order
• Cases involving rent arrears which exceed 12 months, or 9 months where the amount of arrears constitutes more than 25% of a private landlord’s annual income, and cases involving illegal occupiers, will be dealt with more expeditiously
• A landlord may be asked to set out any knowledge they have as to the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the defendants and they could be asked to provide an updated rent account.
With the stay on possession proceedings lifted, claims are now beginning to progress but landlords should be aware of the additional procedures in place. These additions will inevitably result in unwelcome delays in obtaining a possession order.
As lockdown has become part of the ab-normal we are used to, changes in the procedure to obtain a possession order can be a source of confusion and frustration for landlords. Contact Alpesh Patel or one of his colleagues in the Property Litigation Team at The Wilkes Partnership LLP about issuing or reactivating existing possession proceedings.