Following the onset of COVID-19 and the national lockdown restrictions which it led to, one area which has seen numerous changes brought into effect is that of the landlord-tenant sphere.
Whilst our earlier article dealt with the more recent changes, one area which has remained somewhat constant has been that of evictions.
Many landlords will remember the initial confusion when the Government announced back on 18 March 2020 that it planned to introduce emergency legislation aimed at addressing ‘new evictions’. In particular, it seemed – at first– that previously arranged evictions could still proceed, as could any eviction stemming from a Possession Order made as part of existing, ongoing proceedings.
That belief however was unfortunately short-lived after the new ‘Practice Direction 51Z’ came into force on 27 March 2020, which not only ‘Stayed’/suspended all possession proceedings (regardless of whether they were ‘new’ or ongoing), but also extended the same treatment to applications to enforce Possession Orders and evict tenants.
We will all be aware of the numerous extensions which the Government went on to introduce to this national ‘Stay’, which finally expired on 20 September 2020.
Whilst the Courts are now finally working their way through the considerable backlog of possession claims, it will unfortunately be a little longer before evictions are back on the ‘to do list’ for Judges. This follows the fact that –due to the obvious infection risk which accompanies a personal visit by a bailiff/enforcement agent to a tenant’s property– greater care must be exercised to avoid increasing the spread of COVID-19. The situation was also complicated given –at the time– different regions have been in different Tiers, which naturally has an impact on whether enforcement action is even possible.
Prior to Christmas, it seemed that evictions would finally resume as of 11 January 2021 (though even this wasn’t clear). Following the Government having ‘muddied the water’ as it were however (such as the ‘Guidance’ it issued to enforcement agents as opposed to formally passing legal rules), the position has since been clarified.
As things currently stand, evictions are now suspended until 21 February 2021, save for certain exceptions.
Of these exceptions, the most relevant to many landlords will be where the rent arrears are “substantial”. The new Regulations define this as a case which involves unpaid rent arrears of “at least an amount equivalent to 6 months’ rent”. This is a noteworthy departure from the earlier rules, which not only required 9 months’ worth of arrears, but stated that any arrears accrued after 23 March 2020 would not be counted for this purpose. These new rules however not only reduce the level of arrears, but seemingly allow arrears accrued after 23 March 2020 to be counted also.
Landlords should still exercise caution however given – even if one of the exceptions applies – it is still open to tenants to delay enforcement action should they be self-isolating, or ‘shielding’, in which case bailiffs/agents are unlikely to proceed with the eviction.
If you would like advice regarding any of the above, please contact the Dispute Resolution Team at AFG Law on 01204 920102 or email firstname.lastname@example.org