Residential tenancies during Covid-19

3rd April 2020



Residential tenancies during Covid-19

 

The outbreak of coronavirus and the development of the disease, COVID-19, in Britain continues to see many new rules and restrictive measures to homes, businesses and societies.  The position is continuously changing and so, this update applies as things stand now, the 3rd April 2020. 

Coronavirus Act 2020 (‘the Act’) is currently the backbone of the legislative response and has effect from the 26th March 2020.  It is a monumental piece of legislation which has been the focus of much media attention and scrutiny.  

The Act affects all aspects of ‘normal life’ and is well-worth a read and scroll through but in this article we will be looking at what impact Schedule 29 of the Act currently has on residential landlords and tenants.

 
Primary changes

The purpose of the changes is to allow some protection for tenants throughout the outbreak.  To enable this, notice periods for landlords to end tenancies will be extended throughout the relevant period.

The changes will apply for the period 26th March 2020 to 30th September 2020 (‘the relevant period’), but may well be extended further. The Act permits a further 3 month extension to the relevant period without the requirement of passing another bill.

Residential tenancies affected by the Act are those within the following categories: regulated; secure; flexible; fully assured; assured shorthold; introductory; and demoted tenancies.

A landlord can still serve a Notice seeking possession of a residential property but there is a revised notice now available. The minimum notice period is extended to 3 months.

Upon expiry of the notice period, if the tenant remains in occupation, the normal rules apply in that the landlord still requires a possession order and, if the tenant refuses to leave, a warrant of possession for a bailiff to evict.

That being said, seeking a possession order is likely to take much longer than normal. By an amendment to Part 51 of the Civil Procedure Rules, from 27th March 2020 all relevant proceedings for possession and enforcement have been suspended for 90 days, with a view to extend that suspension period if necessary.  This means that any possessions proceedings already with the court are going to form a long queue for listing once normality is resumed.

 
Tenant’s obligations

Although eviction is more difficult for landlords, tenants should not be under any illusion that the Act allows for non-payment of rent during the relevant period. Tenants must continue to pay rent where they can.

Tenants should avoid accruing rent arrears which may lead to a County Court Judgment.  The Act does not freeze the payment of rent or prevent landlords from pursuing rent arrears through other means than eviction.  That being said, with communication, landlords may be able to assist and some may agree to temporarily reduce rent or allow arrears to spread once the tenant is in a better financial position. Landlords may also qualify for a 3 month mortgage break.

The key message here is effective communication between landlord and tenant from an early stage, understanding the issues, and reaching a solution. Agreements should be set out in writing which we can help negotiate and prepare so that both parties are protected.

 
Other recent legislative changes

Landlords should be mindful of other recent changes which may have been overshadowed by the Coronavirus Act and by the Coronavirus itself.

From 1st April 2020 under The Energy Efficiency (Private Rented Property)(England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2018, it has become an offence to let a residential property that falls below the required Energy Performance rating.

Up until the 31st March 2020, the requirement only applied to new tenancies, however, now all residential properties let under residential assured, assured shorthold, regulated, and domestic agricultural tenancies must have an EPC with an energy performance rating of level “E” or better regardless of when that commenced.  

If you rent a property and think you are falling foul of this, speak to us. There are exemptions and we can advise you upon various funding options available.

 
HMCTS priorities

All of the above is against a backdrop of social distancing and reduced Court availability.  So as not to endanger public health, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service is exercising social distancing, reducing staff numbers and consolidating the work of courts and tribunals into fewer buildings. Where possible, cases are being heard behind closed doors with the majority being dealt with by telephone and video-link.

Although court work is continuing and a network of priority courts remain open during the pandemic, as well as the above 90 day suspension, residential tenancy possessions are classified as non-urgent to allow limited civil court resources to be used for urgent matters such as Freezing Orders, displacement under the Mental Health Act, and Homelessness Applications.

The latter not being assisted by possession proceedings during the pandemic. Obviously the current ‘lockdown’ prevents temporary accommodation at go-to places such as hotels, B&Bs, and even relatives’ homes have become unavailable.

 
How can BHP Law help?

At BHP Law our Dispute Resolution team is experienced in Landlord and Tenant matters. Simply contact the team on 01325 466794 to discuss with us or arrange an appointment.  Given the current guidance appointments can be carried out by phone or video conference.  Although staff at our offices are very limited, our specialists are all able to work from home and will be happy to help you through these turbulent times.

Rosie Woodward Rosie Woodward

Chartered Legal Executive

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