On 25th March 2020 the government passed through parliament emergency legislation being The Coronavirus Act 2020 (CA 2020). Section 81 and Schedule 29 focus on the residential lettings market and restricts the ability for landlords to serve notice and take back possession of a property from a tenant during the “relevant period” (26th March 2020 until 30th September 2020).
The CA 2020 applies to the vast majority of private and social housing tenancies, commonly held on an assured shorthold tenancy, and prevents a landlord from commencing possession proceedings during the relevant period unless a minimum of 3 months notice has been given to the tenant. A 90 day stay has also been placed on current possession proceedings from 27 March 2020. The CA 2020 reserves the ability to extend the relevant period by up to 6 months if necessary.
The position pre the CA 2020
Prior to the CA 2020 coming into force a landlord of an assured shorthold tenancy (the most common type of residential tenancy) could serve notice on a tenant under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 to bring the tenancy to an end and regain possession of the property (Section 21 Notice). The tenant did not need to be in breach of the tenancy in any way and the landlord did not need to provide a reason for requiring the property back (although a number of prerequisites needed to have been met). The Section 21 Notice required the landlord to provide the tenant at least 2 months’ notice to vacate.
Alternatively, if the landlord could satisfy one of the statutory grounds such as arrears of rent then a notice under Section 8 of the Housing Act 1988 could be served (Section 8 Notice). The Section 8 Notice required a landlord to provide a tenant up to 2 months notice of termination dependant on the breach.
Landlords options post CA 2020
The CA 2020 has extended the notice period landlords are now required to give to tenants on either Section 21 or Section 8 Notices served within the relevant period. Landlords are discouraged from commencing possession proceedings without very good reason to do so. Should either a Section 21 Notice or a Section 8 Notice be served from 26th March until 30th September a notice period of 3 months must be given to the tenant before possession proceedings are commenced.
All current possession claims and proceedings seeking to enforce possession by a warrant or writ of possession are stayed for a period of 90 days from the 27 March 2020. It is also likely if possession proceedings are commenced on the expiry of Section 21 or Section 8 Notice that there will be a delay in it being heard in court as a backlog of cases should be anticipated.
Whilst the legislation has made it a much lengthier process for a landlord to take back possession of a property a tenant should not be disillusioned that action cannot be taken. Rent will still remain due and will accrue as a debt under the terms of the tenancy for which the landlord can seek alternative methods of payment.
Landlords who are struggling to receive rent payments from tenants may also want to take advantage of the three month mortgage payment holiday which has been extended to buy to let mortgages.
Landlord’s repair obligations
Landlords repair obligations have not changed and whilst all reasonable precautions should be taken to comply with social distancing, where emergency repairs are required, landlords should carry these out where reasonably safe to do so along with the required annual gas safety checks.
Emergency repairs are those which are required to enable a tenant to live safely maintaining physical and mental health and government guidance has been issued on this including repairing a leaking roof, plumbing or boiler issues, security critical issues such as a broken door or window and repairing white goods.
If access to the property is not possible, for example if the tenant is self-isolating then a record of the steps the landlord has taken should be recorded and a landlord should take all reasonable steps necessary in order to not be in breach of duty.
Outside of the CA 2020 from 1 April 2020 the regulations regarding EPC’s have now made it an offence to let a property which falls foul of the minimum rating of E, regardless of when the tenancy was entered into therefore the regulations no longer only apply to new tenancies which landlords should be mindful of.
Government guidance for landlords
The general guidance from the government is that landlords and tenants should work together wherever possible. Tenants should continue to make the required rent payments and if struggling should speak with landlords early to come to an alternative arrangement. Landlords are encouraged to work with tenants taking a flexible and understanding approach and agreeing a sensible way forward.
Landlords are discouraged from serving notices on tenants during the relevant period without very good reason however it has not been prohibited.
This information is accurate and up to date as of 6 May 2020.
If you are a landlord who is struggling with your tenant during this pandemic and you want further specific advice then please do not hesitate to contact our property team.