The impact of COVID-19 on County Court proceedings27/03/20
The Coronavirus Act became law on 25 March 2020 and its provisions in respect of housing are now in force. It applies to all landlords including registered providers (RPs) and local authorities (LAs). This article will explore the housing provisions and your concerns around County Court proceedings in the current climate.
The housing provisions were not as wide-ranging as expected. Media headlines have misled many tenants into thinking they do not have to pay rent when, in effect, the provisions extend the notice period (regardless of grounds) for assured and assured shorthold tenancies, and secure tenancies to three months.
This requirement will last until 30 September 2020. The Act allows the Minister to extend the notice period to up to six months, but that does not appear to be retrospective so would not affect any three month notices served in the forthcoming period. Landlords will therefore be considering how best to tackle anti-social behaviour and, perhaps more worrying in a lockdown situation, the domestic violence ground.
What about other tenancies?
Flexible, introductory, rent act and demoted tenancies are also included in these provisions. Genuine licences or contractual tenancies (such as in some hostels, temporary homelessness accommodation and property guardians) are not—for these, existing notice periods remain as is.
Can I issue new possession proceedings now?
The situation has changed with the Government’s announcement that the Master of the Rolls has agreed that all housing possession actions will be suspended for a period of 90 days from 27 March 2020. As such even if you had served a valid notice you will be able to issue court proceedings that could lead to an eviction. The limited exceptions appear to relate to cases such as squatters’ claims.
Can I evict an occupier based on an existing possession order?
Existing evictions that have been booked will be suspended and no new ones can be arranged.
New Notices and How Can I Serve them?
The prescribed Assured tenancy forms have been altered. They can be found here. Most noticeably Form 6A for s21 notices and Form 4 for Assured NoSPs are altered. These should be used from now onwards.
The “Use It or Lose It” provision for a s21 notice in most periodic tenancies remains 6 months from service. As the notice is now a minimum of three months in length landlords will have, at most, three months from expiry in which to issue.
The Housing Acts do not say how notices have to be served. If you can print and have someone deliver the notice by posting through the letter box, this is normally good service, especially where you have a provision in the contract (tenancy or lease) allowing that.
The guidance from the government that people can travel for work only where “absolutely necessary” means that many landlords have closed offices, or severely reduced presence on their estates.
Whilst notices can be posted, landlords can expect residents to deny receipt. Notices theoretically may also be served by email, but again it may be hard to prove that they were received. Landlords should note the prescribed forms have been changed slightly and their existing notices should be amended.
What about rent arrears arising through coronavirus?
The draft legislation says nothing about rent arrears. Government press releases suggested that landlords and tenants should subsequently try and reach agreement in respect of arrears, but the arrears remain payable. This is not in any way a rent free period.
What about other court action?
Where there is anti-social behaviour landlords can continue to seek injunctions, subject to court listing. Technically without notice injunctions can be issued by any county court and it may be that some will be more helpful than others.
There is still the requirement for personal service of ASB injunction papers. In practice, this is impossible to achieve with social distancing so you can ask Courts for permission to serve in other ways, such as through the letter box.
How can Capsticks help?
We are happy to work with you and your local courts to find a best way around the issues. There is unlikely to be an easy or swift solution in respect of rent but tenancy breaches or ASB should be easier to deal with. If you have any queries around what is discussed in this article, and the impact on your organisation, please speak to Daniel Skinner or any of your contacts at Capsticks to find out more about how we can help.