Initially, the Coronavirus Act 2020 suspended possession claims for 90 days from 27 March but earlier in June that suspension was extended until 23 August 2020. Only then can landlords notify tenants that they intend to seek possession. This means it’s not possible for anyone to either be granted or enforce a possession order until at least the end of August.
Landlords should expect further delays as the duration of the notice period a landlord must give has also been extended to three months until 30 September 2020. This notice period applies regardless of whether a landlord uses a Section 21 notice or Section 8 or what the grounds for seeking possession are. There are also suggestions that this three-month notice period may be pushed out to six months in September.
With this in mind, we would advise landlords and agents to look at alternative ways to resolve tenant issues. If the pain point is rental arrears, consider trying to put a rent repayment plan into play rather than moving forward with a lengthy eviction process (in addition to the process extensions, there is expected to be a huge backlog due to court proceedings and bailiff actions having been suspended).
Those who wish to proceed with possession claims should be aware that private landlords are also likely to be subject to ‘pre-action protocol’ as mandated by the government in Pre-Action Protocol for Possession Claims by Social Landlords. Although it’s unclear when the government will roll out the changes to ‘pre-action protocol’, they will apply to both private and social landlords. Landlords who have not tried to resolve the dispute with the pre-action protocol first may find their possession claim adjourned or thrown out.
While we are still waiting for formal confirmation, the steps are likely to include:
- Landlords documenting that they’ve taken steps to communicate the reason they’re seeking the possession order to the tenants
- Evidence that the tenant understands the claims
- In the case of vulnerable tenants, proof the tenant has the mental capacity to understand the proceedings and that they have not been discriminated against as per The Equality Act of 2010.
The safest thing landlords and agents can do to protect themselves and ensure success in any possession cases is create a clearly defined audit trail, demonstrating every communication or interaction with the tenant throughout the tenancy. While the rules and regulations are changing and mutating as rapidly as the virus they’re trying to protect us from, what stays constant is the need to evidence everything. For more information about the Coronavirus Act 2020 and how it relates to possession orders, see government guidance.