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Eviction proceedings postponed again – what does this mean for landlords?

Reasons to choose Wilson Browne

The pandemic has resulted in a difficult time for the country as a whole.  One of the Government’s ways of easing the economic troubles caused by the virus has been to postpone any possession claims from landlords that are looking to evict their tenants.

As a result, the courts have been building up a hefty backlog of claims over the past few months, with landlords and their solicitors preparing to resume the process on 23rd August 2020.

At the last moment, the Government has announced another postponement. The ban on evictions will now not be lifted until Sunday 20th September 2020 at the earliest.

Further worry for landlords waiting on a hearing

Unfortunately for many landlords, some of whom have have been waiting on an eviction hearing since March, there is a very slim chance that they will have their claims heard shortly after the ban is lifted.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has confirmed that the courts will be prioritising the “most serious cases” and hearing them first. The most serious cases are deemed to be those involving anti-social behaviour and domestic abuse. Tenants simply failing to pay rent and amassing large arrears will not be enough for the case to be given priority.

If a landlord is fortunate enough to receive a judgment as early as October or November, they will also have to factor in the general bailiffs amnesty around the Christmas period. This typically means bailiffs will not evict any tenants two weeks either side of Christmas, but in these unprecedented times, it would not be unrealistic to expect this amnesty to last even longer this year.

Further delays for landlords considering starting a new possession claim

The announcement also comes with another big blow to landlords looking to start the eviction process. The Housing Secretary announced an intention to require 6 months’ notice to be given to tenants and has indicated that he does not want to see people evicted over the winter.

We are therefore strongly recommending that any landlords considering starting possession proceedings issue notice to their tenants as soon as they can to start the clock ticking on the notice period. It is important to understand that landlords do not need to wait until after the 20th September 2020 to serve notice of intention to take proceedings.

Reactivating a claim – how has your tenant been affected by the pandemic?

When we reach the 20th September landlords must also be aware that their claim will not automatically be relisted for hearing.

Back in July the Government published Practice Direction 55C (“PD 55C”). This direction means that In order to resume a claim, claimants must file a reactivation notice with the court. This notice must detail all knowledge the claimant has as to how their tenants (and their tenants’ dependants) have been affected by the pandemic.

Guidance around PD 55C has been limited and its requirements are ambiguous. To ensure the best chance of landlords claims being heard when the ban is lifted, we are recommending that landlords engage with their tenants and find out as much information as they can to help satisfy the reactivation requirements.

With many landlords struggling to pay their own buy to-let mortgages and keep afloat themselves, we are also recommending that the effects of the virus on landlords are detailed in reactivation proceedings. A compromise is not always possible, and the courts will want to see evidence as to why.

Can you reach a compromise?

The Government has urged landlords to attempt to reach agreements with tenants to avoid them having to pursue eviction. They have stated in the PD 55C explanatory notes that landlords ““will be required to demonstrate that they have engaged with their tenants in an effort to find a solution before making a claim.”

Whilst it’s a requirement of the court to consider compromise – it may be a landlord’s best option to try and reach an agreement with their tenants. Reduced payment plans and rent payment ‘holidays’ are two suggestions as to how this might be handled.

Advice and help

If you are a landlord troubled by the new announcements, we recommend viewing our short article “Help for Landlords during Coronavirus”.

For complete guidance and representation throughout the process, contact our Housing Team on 0800 088 6004

George Iles

Posted:

George Iles

Trainee Solicitor

George is a Trainee Solicitor currently working with the Commercial Property team.