A new practice direction was published creating a 90 day stay to possession claims and enforcement of possession orders. The practice direction came in to force on 27 March 2020 and was updated on 18 April 2020.
There are some limited exceptions to the general stay including certain claims against trespassers.
There is scope for the stay to be extended, if required, as the practice direction ceases to have effect on 30 October 2020.
The stay applies to both ongoing claims and new claims, it does not preclude the issue of a new claim, although such a claim would be stayed. It is likely that there will be a significant backlog of possession claims for the courts to deal with once the general stay is lifted.
Landlords are still able to serve either a section 21 notice or section 8 notice requiring possession (provided that it is proper to do so in all the circumstances notwithstanding COVID-19). However the notices have been amended to reflect changes in the law.
Whether a landlord seeks possession by way of a s21 notice or a s8 notice, the Coronavirus Act 2020 extends the notice period to 3 months. This is in place of 2 months usually seen in a s21 notice and the various notice periods applicable depending on the grounds for repossession following a s8 notice.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has published new prescribed forms for both notices reflecting the change. Government advice states that a new notice should not be served without “very good reason” although there appears to be very little guidance as to what would or would not constitute a “very good reason”.
Notice periods may be extended further.
The new practice directions and the Coronavirus Act do not prevent landlords from pursuing debt claims for unpaid rent.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has provided guidance for Landlords and Tenants. As well as explaining the legal framework surrounding payment of rent and possession claims, the guidance explains that Landlords and Tenants should adopt a common sense approach to discussions around inability to pay rent due to the lockdown as well as any other issues that arise.
The guidance also refers to support for Landlords in the form of repayment holidays which includes buy to let mortgages. Landlords should discuss this with their mortgage provider at the earliest opportunity.
The guidance assists Landlords and Tenant on issues surrounding health and safety, in particular noting that it will be difficult if not impossible to carry out routine inspections at this time. All parties are encouraged to take a sensible approach as regards repairs, Landlord’s obligations to keep properties in repair have not changed, and this will include facilitating urgent repairs in a manner consistent with the Government guidance on social distancing and self-isolation where required.
Landlords should continue to comply with the requirements as regards electrical safety and gas safety. If they are not able to do so, then they must be able to show that they have taken all reasonable steps to comply with their duties.