24 Aug New restrictions introduced on landlords repossessing properties
The current ban on evictions, put in place as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, was due to come to an end on 23 August 2020 but the government has decided to extend it to 20 September 2020.
In Scotland, the government has already extended a full ban on evictions to March 2021. In Wales, the new extension will apply.
The suspension of evictions from social or private rented accommodation was introduced at the beginning of the lockdown to protect tenants from being forcibly evicted during the pandemic. It was initially introduced for three months and then extended for a further two months.
Landlords are required to give six months’ notice to any tenants they want to evict till at least 31 March 2021. There will also be some other new restrictions that didn’t apply before the pandemic.
New practice direction
Even when the eviction ban is lifted, the eviction ban will be lifted, and landlords will be able to start court proceedings against tenants. But the new measures announced by the government last month mean there will be changes to the process of regaining possession of a property via the courts.
Additional processes include landlords having to submit any relevant information in their claim regarding whether a tenant’s situation has been impacted by coronavirus pandemic. A landlord must file and serve a notice outlining what knowledge they have of how their tenant or their dependants have been affected by Covid-19.
What happens if this information isn’t provided?
A judge has the power to suspend proceedings if this information isn’t given. But there’s concern over what this will mean for landlords as there’s a lack of guidance over how it will influence rulings.
Although there’s an obligation for landlords or agents to inform the court of what they know about a tenant’s circumstances relating to COVID-19, the landlord isn’t required to obtain this information.
Residential property lawyer, George Cohen at Irwin Mitchell commented: “We predict that judges may decide to stay proceedings where a tenant or their dependants have been affected by COVID-19. Similarly, judges could order a stay if the landlord states that the tenant’s circumstances are unknown. If the tenant ignores a landlord’s request for information, or refuses to engage, [they] should keep a record of their attempts and provide them to the court. We hope that the obligations on landlords will be clarified in due course. What is clear is that landlords can still expect to see delays for residential possession claims in the near future.”
Concern in the property market
Several leading property associations have voiced a note of caution over the new measures.
Timothy Douglas of ARLA Propertymark, said: “It is vital that the Government has a co-ordinated strategy that prioritises the most serious cases and informs the sector about the changes and what landlords and agents need to do. This is important because when the courts re-open there will be a backlog of cases and they will take longer to progress. As a result, it will be even more important that landlords and agents follow the new procedures in full. It is important that we take steps back to normality and both landlords and tenants have access to the justice system, particularly in cases where tenants behave anti-socially or have pre-pandemic rent arrears.”
Ben Beadle, Chief Executive of the National Residential Landlords Association, said: “When the courts do start to hear cases again, it is essential that they deal swiftly with the most serious cases, including those where tenants are committing anti-social behaviour or where there are long-standing rent arrears that have nothing to do with the pandemic. To offer security to tenants and landlords badly hit during the lockdown we are calling on the government to introduce a tenant loan scheme to help pay off arrears built due to the coronavirus.”
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