In March last year the Government brought in emergency legislation in the form of the Coronavirus Act 2020 (“the Act”). It was drafted to cover a host of measures and provide additional protection for residential and business tenants who may well be having difficulty paying their rent. Many people have and indeed still are struggling financially due to the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the Act’s inception, the rules in relation to tenancies have been routinely updated in line with the easing of restrictions.
The Act covers most residential accommodation in the private and social rented sectors and applies to all grounds of eviction. The Government’s hope was that this would give time for the lockdown restrictions previously in place to have been lifted, allowing people to return to work and resume paying their rent. In addition, it was also announced that all ongoing housing possession actions and evictions would be suspended.
As lockdown and Covid-19 restrictions ease we are slowly moving back towards some form of normality in relation to residential tenant evictions. Court proceedings for possession can now proceed and evictions can once again take place. There are, however, delays within the Court system and some Covid measures remain in place that alter the approach that must be taken when seeking to recover possession of residential premises.
Possession for residential tenancies
A residential landlord must always be mindful of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 and, if a landlord wishes to recover possession of premises from a tenant, they must follow the correct procedure. Residential possession is a complex area of law but, in broad terms, a landlord may serve:
- a “Section 21 Notice” to bring a tenancy to end once its fixed term expires; or
- a “Section 8 Notice” at any time, if a tenant is in breach of certain terms of the tenancy.
A Section 21 Notice requires no fault on the part of the tenant, a Section 8 Notice is based on a breach of the tenancy agreement. There are specific rules that dictate when a Section 21 Notice or Section 8 Notice can be served, and these must be adhered to. These fall outside the scope of this article.
Once a Section 21 or Section 8 Notice has been served and the relevant notice period has elapsed, if the tenant remains in occupation a landlord must seek an order for possession from the Court by issuing the correct proceedings.
Notice periods for Section 21 Notices and Section 8 Notices
Prior to Covid-19, there were specific notice periods that had to be adhered to when serving a Section 21 or Section 8 Notice. This period of time would need to have expired before Court proceedings could be issued by a landlord seeking an order for possession from the Court. To protect tenants during the Covid-19 pandemic, these notice periods were extended and have been updated periodically.
For all Section 21 Notices and most Section 8 Notices the notice periods are:
- Three months for notices served between 26th March 2020 and 28th August 2020.
- Six months for notices served between 29th August 2020 and 31st May 2021.
- Four months for notices served between 1st June 2021 and 30th September 2021.
It is hoped that the notice periods will return to the pre-COVID-19 period of two months from October 2021.
For the more serious breaches of a tenancy that warrant a Section 8 Notice, the notice periods currently are:
- Immediate to four weeks for anti-social behaviour.
- Two weeks for a tenant without Right to Rent in the UK.
- Two to four weeks for a tenant’s conduct including;
- Domestic abuse in the social sector;
- A false statement given by a Tenant; or
- Rent in arrears of over 4 months.
- Two months for the death of a tenant .
As it stands, only after the relevant notice period has expired can Court proceedings be issued by a landlord and a judge grant an eviction order if the tenant has not vacated a property.
In addition to the changes in notice periods, the government has also introduced extended time limits for bringing Court action in relation to residential possession proceedings. Prior to Covid-19, the time period for beginning proceedings was within six months of the Section 21 notice being served. This was increased as follows:
- Ten months in relation to a Section 21 Notice served between 29th August 2020 and 31st May 2021.
- Eight months in relation to a Section 21 Notice served on or after 1st June 2021.
It is worth noting that the time in which to bring proceedings following a Section 8 Notice remains unchanged by the act. This must be done within twelve months from when the notice is served.
The legislation enacted to assist throughout the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a complex area of law to become even more complicated. Landlords and tenants would be well advised to seek assistance when dealing with issues surrounding possession as any failure to strictly adhere to the rules can be fatal to possession proceedings.
If you need help or advice, contact our team