The Coronavirus Act 2020 has had a huge impact on the ability of residential landlords to recover possession of rented properties.
In my experience, the vast majority of possession claims brought by landlords are as a result of the tenant having accrued rent arrears, or because the landlord decides to end the tenancy effectively on a ‘no fault’ basis.
In a ‘standard’ rent possession claim pre-March 2020, where the tenant had accrued at least two months’ rent arrears, a landlord would serve notice on the tenant, giving the tenant 14 days before issuing a claim for possession of the property and judgment for the rent arrears. You could expect to get to a possession hearing at Court within about six weeks of issuing the claim. Assuming that a possession order was granted, the whole process – from the date of serving the notice to obtaining a possession order – might take two or three months.
The situation now is that, unless the tenant owes at least six months’ rent, the initial landlord’s notice must give six months’ notice before legal proceedings are issued. There might now be at least a four month wait between issuing legal proceedings and attending a hearing to obtain the possession order.
In ‘no fault’ possession claims, pre-March 2020 the landlord could serve a two-month notice terminating the tenancy, and then issue a claim for possession at the County Court. The time period that now has to elapse between service of notice and issuing a claim is six months.
Even assuming that the landlord obtains their possession order at Court, currently, unless the tenant owes at least six months’ rent, any possession order cannot be enforced by evicting the tenant.
It is still possible for landlords to issue debt claims against tenants for unpaid rent, but how useful that is to a landlord at the current time is open for debate. The current rules regarding timescales when issuing possession proceedings are in place until at least 31 May 2021 and realistically, that date is likely to be extended further.
It may be that we find that there is an unintended ‘knock-on effect’ in the future here. In the past, residential landlords faced with a tenant not paying their rent might have applied for possession on a ‘no fault’ basis, purely in order to regain the property and hope to find a new tenant. Now that the residential landlord has to wait six months before a ‘no fault’ notice expires, they may be more inclined to seek possession of the property as a result of the rent arrears, and also to seek judgment for the arrears debt in addition to the possession order.
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