Following the unprecedented outcomes of the spreading of the Covid-19 virus which has caused the imposition of measures not seen in our time, the Government have been forced to impose emergency legislation in the form of the Coronavirus Act 2020.
One such aspect which had direct effect on landlords and tenants was the imposition of a 90-day pause (or ‘Stay’) on new and current tenancy possession proceedings with limited exceptions (specified further below). As a result of this, many landlords are seeking clarity on what they are entitled to do, especially where rental payments have stopped.
The 90-day initial period commenced at the end of March 2020 and is due to run until 30 June 2020. During this period there will be a stay on all possession proceedings. The following list are the types of matters which have been effected (this list is not exhaustive):
- All tenants and licensees who benefit from protection from eviction under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. This includes most tenants in social housing and the private rented sector and some licensees;
- Mortgage repossession claims;
- Possession claims brought by landlords against leaseholders on the basis of forfeiture; and
- Residential occupiers who have become trespassers (as a result of the expiry of a notice to quit having been served).
The 90-day stay in the proceedings does not apply to:
- Lodgers and those occupying holiday lets, hostel accommodation and accommodation for asylum seekers. The reason for this is as a result of them all occupying their accommodation under tenancies or licences which are specifically excluded from protection from eviction under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977;
- Possession claims against trespassers; and
- Possession claims against trespassers for an Interim Possession Order. In order for this to apply, the Claimant must have an immediate right to possession of the premises throughout the period of alleged unlawful occupation. In addition to this, the occupier must not have entered or remained on the premises with the consent of a person who, at the time consent was given, had an immediate right to possession of the premises.
Length of Notice periods under the Housing Act 1988
Sections 8 and section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 have been amended so that at least three months’ notice must now be given to the tenant of the intention to bring possession proceedings. Previously the length of time that was permitted ranged from 2 weeks to 2 months depending on the type of Notice served (Sch.29, paras.6 and 7 of the Coronavirus Act 2020).
Payments of rents during the 90-day period
Whilst it now seems accepted that landlords will not be able to recover possession of their leased premises during the period covered by the emergency legislation, there may well be difficulties faced by tenants in paying their rent during the period of lockdown that is currently upon us.
The advice for all tenants must be to speak to their landlords (or letting agents) as soon as possible in order to explain their situation and discuss ways to manage the situation. For example, an agreement could be reached for additional time to pay, or for payments in instalments on top of the monthly rent going forward.
Tenants should however remember that they are ultimately liable for payment of the rent in full and could still face eviction once the initial 90-day period has ended.
The Government has also indicated that following the end of the 90-day period, if a tenant is in arrears of rent, the landlord and tenant will be expected to work together to establish an affordable repayment plan which works for them both and takes into account the tenant’s individual circumstances which is likely to be easier said than done.
Liability on Landlords for repairs
The Ministry of Housing Communities & Local Government has released some guidance entitled Coronavirus (Covid-19): Guidance for Landlords and Tenants which provides guidance on repair covenants within leases. It states that “landlords’ repair obligations have not changed”, but “in these unprecedented times we encourage tenants and landlords to take a pragmatic, common-sense approach to non-urgent issues which are affected by COVID-19 related restrictions”.
Within the published information, urgent health and safety issues are defined at paragraph 3.2 as:
“…those which will affect your ability to live safely and maintain your mental and physical health in your home. This could include (but is not limited to):
- If there is a problem with the fabric of your building, for example the roof is leaking
- If your boiler is broken, leaving you without heating or hot water
- If there is a plumbing issue, meaning you don’t have washing or toilet facilities
- If your white goods such as fridge or washing machine have broken, meaning you are unable to wash clothes or store food safely
- If there is a security-critical problem, such as a broken window or external door
- If equipment a disabled person relies on requires installation or repair.”
Accordingly, tenants and landlords can still expect each other to attend to urgent matters falling within their covenants of repair; and tenants should provide access to their landlords to carry out such repairs.
If you do require advice or assistance in relation to residential landlord and tenant matters, including evicting tenants and/or recovering rental arrears, please contact Asit Jansari, Consultant Solicitor (firstname.lastname@example.org, 07966 24498, 0116 319 1110).