In an attempt to protect tenants from eviction during the pandemic, the government introduced a range of restrictions and changes to the procedures in residential possession claims. As things currently stand, the main changes to residential possession proceedings are as follows:
Notice of effect of pandemic
In nearly all cases, when issuing a possession claim the Claimant must now serve on the Defendant and file with the Court a notice setting out what knowledge that party has as to the effect of the Coronavirus pandemic on the Defendant and their dependants.
Almost all claims for possession were suspended between the end of March 2020 and 20 September 2020. It was also necessary to serve a “Reactivation Notice” on the defendant in order to progress the claim after 20 September 2020.
Due to the severe backlog of possession claims, where a Re-Activation Notice has been filed the Courts have been prioritising the more serious cases, for example those relating to antisocial behaviour, domestic violence and rent arrears in excess of 9 months.
The deadline for filing a Re-activation Notice is 30 April 2021 and if neither party files one then the claim will be “stayed” (left in abeyance). Any party wishing to revive the claim would need to make an application requesting that the stay be lifted. The key difference between the Re-activation Notice and an application requesting to lift a stay is that there is no guarantee that the Court will grant a request to lift the stay.
New periods of notice
The statutory period of notice required to terminate a tenancy has also changed. This applies to statutory notices that must be served before possession proceedings can be brought. Previously, only 2 months’ notice was required in the case of a “section 21 notice” and only 2 weeks in the case of a “section 8 notice” based on rent arrears. Now, in both cases, you will need to give 6 months’ notice, unless the notice was served before 28 August 2020 (in which case only 3 months’ notice is required). There are limited exceptions to these rules, and they may apply depending on your circumstances. Otherwise, most notice periods be 6 months. This is a significant extension, particularly in the case of section 8 notices based on rent arrears.
These changes are due to revert to the original notice periods after 31 May 2021.
Abolition of 8-week listings
Another change is that the obligation on the Court to list the first Hearing of Possession case with 8 weeks of issuing the claim has been abandoned. This is likely to result in delays in getting a possession hearing.
If a possession order is granted by the Court, but the tenant does not vacate the property by the date they have been ordered to leave, then the next step is to instruct the County Court Bailiffs or High Court Enforcement Officer to evict them. However, measures have been introduced which mean that, except in certain specific circumstances, orders for possession are not to be enforced. There have been various adjustments to the restrictions over the duration of the pandemic, but the current position is that the Housing Secretary has indicated that the restrictions of evictions will continue until at least 31 May 2021.
How Morrisons Solicitors can assist you with eviction and possession proceedings
Many of these changes are under review and we expect further developments in this area. It is an area that we are continually monitoring at Morrisons. If you have any questions, please get in touch by contacting the residential landlord and tenant team.