There has been a lot of controversy and debate over whether landlords can continue to take action to evict their tenants.
With much uncertainty on how the government were going to deal with this issue, the County Courts started to tackle this issue by first suspending enforcement of possession orders. This included those bailiff appointments which had already been scheduled, being postponed until further notice.
At first, it was not clear whether upcoming possession hearings would continue to proceed (albeit it was clear that if the hearings did go ahead, that enforcement of any possession order would be restricted until further notice).
Since the Coronavirus Act 2020, possession hearings have been vacated, and will have been suspended for 90 days (from 27 March 2020). Furthermore, no ‘new’ proceedings will be processed, and so landlords cannot rely upon notices which have been previously issued and which have now expired. Practically, this could mean that landlords are prevented from relying upon otherwise valid notices as a result of limitation expiring (the deadline for issuing possession proceedings following service of a notice). This could result in landlord’s having to re-serve tenants with new notices.
Until the Coronavirus Act 2020, it was not at all clear how the government intended to implement protection for tenants during the unprecedented pandemic. At first, government’s focus appeared to be on preventing evictions in circumstances where tenants had fallen into rental arrears due to the financial pressures and consequences of the pandemic.
It was said very early on, that there would be of a ‘3-month ban’ on evictions. Much early commentary on this issue suggested that this would mean that landlords would not able to take any action to evict tenants for a period of at least 3 months. However, the reality of government’s action is that landlords can continue to serve notices seeking possession, but that no landlord will be able to take steps to obtain a possession order for at least three months. This is due to changes in the law which require increased notice to be given to tenants, and which prevent landlords from commencing possession proceedings at this time.
The effect of the Coronavirus is that the minimum notice which can be given by a landlord who seeks to regain possession of a property is 3 months. In other words, a tenant must be given at least 3 months to vacate a property.
There has been much criticism over the recent changes to this area of law. Whether or not further changes will be made in response to the criticism remains to be seen.