Coronavirus Act 2020. Most Landlords and probably also many Tenants will have heard or read about the measures introduced by the government in March in response to the current pandemic situation. The information is long and open to confusion; this is a simple guide so you can understand the actual implications for you.

The measures were prompted by the likelihood that many tenants will find themselves temporarily unable to meet their monthly rental payments due to a drop in income due to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated “lockdown”.

What are the main changes?

Change 1: Extension of usual Notice periods

  • At the moment the Coronavirus Act has extended all Notice periods to three months. This extension currently applies until 30th September 2020. There is power to extend this further and clearly the government will be keeping the situation under review.
  • This does not prevent Landlords from serving new Notices but what it does do is ensure that even if the Landlord states a shorter period on the Notice itself, the law will override this and extend that Notice period to three months by default.

Notices are the written documents that must be served on residential Tenants before their Landlord can take the next step of applying to the County Court for a Possession Order. Landlords can serve a Notice where there has been a breach of a tenancy or simply where the Landlord wishes to regain vacant possession of a property.

A breach of tenancy occurs where a Tenant has not followed the terms of the tenancy, for example, if a Tenant allows their rent payments to fall into arrears. Usual notice periods vary depending upon which process the Landlord is following. Notice periods for breach of tenancy can be as little as days or weeks whereas the commonly known “Section 21” process requires a two-month Notice. These periods are now all three months. Landlords can still serve Notices for a shorter period, but the law will override it.

Change 2: Putting Claims for Possession of Properties on hold

What if a Notice has already been served and has expired?

In cases where a Notice served has already expired and the Landlord begins a County Court claim for possession of the property, the vast majority of those claims are being placed on hold for 90 days. 

It would also appear that this placing on hold also applies to cases in which a Landlord already has a Court Order for Possession and wishes to seek final eviction of a Tenant.  

The current 90-day period began on 27th March 2020 and therefore comes up for further review on 25th June 2020. There are some limited exceptions that the Courts will still deal with including claims against trespassers.

The Way Forward

The aim and effect of these measures are:

  • Prevent serious hardship for Tenants affected by the pandemic;
  • To enable the Court system to focus on dealing only with those Court hearings that absolutely must go ahead; and
  • To limit the number of people needing to travel around seeing properties and moving house during the lockdown restrictions.

Indications are that, even if the measures are extended to stay in place for longer, this will still ultimately be temporary. Rents for the period covered by these measures will still be payable by Tenants to their Landlord even if they end up being paid back gradually. 

Landlords and Tenants are therefore advised to communicate openly and frequently so that each of them knows the position in relation to rent and other obligations and to be co-operative with each other during this time. 

If you are involved in a landlord and tenant dispute or require dispute resolution advice more generally, please contact Jenny Kemp in the Dispute Resolution department, on 01626 202404 or jennykemp@wbw.co.uk. WBW Solicitors has offices in Newton Abbot, Exeter, Torquay, Paignton, Bovey Tracey, Launceston, Honiton, Exmouth and Sidmouth.