COVID-19 and protection from eviction of residential tenants
25 March 2020
Last week we commented on Labour’s proposals (see here) to adopt emergency Coronavirus related measures to provide protection to residential tenants.
A day later, the government announced a “radical package of measures to protect renters and landlords affected by coronavirus.” The measures promised by the government included:
- Emergency legislation to suspend new evictions from social or private rented accommodation during this national emergency;
- No new possession proceedings through applications to the court to start during the crisis;
- Protection for landlords with a 3 month mortgage payment holiday extended to Buy to Let properties.
The Coronavirus Bill which at the time of writing is with the House of Lords can be seen here. Section 81 deals with protection from eviction and residential tenancies in England and Wales and schedule 29 (see here) amends the Rent Act 1977, the Housing Act 1985 and the Housing Act 1988.
The effect of the amendments to the said Acts is merely to extend all notice periods for notices seeking and/or requiring possession to three months. This includes all grounds for possession including for example:
- Discretionary rent arrears grounds where in some occasions (assured) tenancies only two weeks’ notice is normally required;
- Mandatory grounds for possession for anti-social behaviour, where normally one months’ notice is required; and
- Section 21 in relation to Assured Shorthold tenancies including (starter and demoted) tenancies where two months’ notice is normally required.
It is clear that the measures proposed by the government fall short of what was promised last week and what was proposed by Labour. In particular, the Bill fails to make any provision for:
- Notices served before the commencement of the legislation. Notices validly served before the commencement of the legislation will remain valid and landlords can act on them and issue proceedings;
- The protection of licensees, for example lodgers or people in a temporary or employment-related accommodation. The Legislation does nothing to protect these least secure occupiers;
- Relief of coronavirus-related rent arrears. Tenants, who are out of work due to the coronavirus, but are not able to benefit from the government’s promise to pay 80% of their salary are left on their own;
- Other landlord and tenant obligations, for example the obligation on landlords to carry out annual gas safety inspections and keep properties in repair.
The Bill does however give power to the relevant national authority to increase the notice periods referred to above from three months up to six months but does not, as indicated, extend the notice period of notices already served.
The Government failed to do what it promised to do – protect tenants. The legislation merely delays evictions, in some cases by just one month. John Healey, the Shadow Housing Secretary commented that “this legislation does not stop people losing their homes as a result of coronavirus, just gives them some extra time to pack their bags”.
There is however hope for tenants. Given prohibition on non-essential travel, County Court are closing up shop. We have heard for example that Central London County Court will only be dealing with urgent matters (family proceedings and injunction). It is unlikely therefore that possession hearings will take place during the lock-down period and the same goes for bailiff appointments. This is, however, little comfort for those facing eviction in these current stressful and uncertain times.