The eviction ban extension - How landlords should be coping

This information is current and updated to the best of our knowledge as of Friday 8 January.

 

Latest updates and advice

On 8 January the Government extended the suspension on bailiff evictions to 21 February 2021. There are some exemptions which allow landlords with existing possession orders to evict tenants in specific situations, such as when a tenant has accrued ‘substantial’ rent arrears – this is updated to be classed as those over six months, it would appear from the date of granting of the warrant for possession.

Warrants of possession are also allowed for situations concerning trespassers, the death of a tenant, an unoccupied property and tenants involved in anti-social behaviour.

The process for requesting a bailiff eviction is not straightforward and requires an application to be made to court for a Judge to be satisfied one of the exemptions exists. Landlords who are now allowed to evict problem tenants could have gone without rent for around 18 months. This means that landlords who don’t act now might end up being forced out of the sector due to a combination of anti-social tenants and continued delays to court proceedings; delays that will linger even long after the world ‘gets back to normal’.

According to NRLA CEO Ben Beadle, this is little more than a plaster on a mortal wound that will ultimately lead to more people losing their homes.

It means tenants’ debts will continue to mount to the point where they have no hope of paying them off leading eventually to them having to leave their home.

– NRLA CEO Ben Beadle

He feels that the Government is too worried about the short term implications and should be acting to sustain tenancies in the long term instead.

Paul Shamplina of Landlord Action, feels like this is due to the thorough campaigning of the NRLA and calls the change in definition of substantial rent arrears a bit of rare positive news. However, he admits worrying about the backlog of court cases still lingering since March last year.

The latest from the Government is that:

  • Bailiffs are now allowed to attend properties to execute a warrant of possession if it concerns trespassers, the death of a tenant, an unoccupied property and tenants involved in anti-social behaviour or, crucially, those who have built up substantial rent arrears
  • New six month notice periods to be in place until at least 31 March 2021
  • The judiciary will carefully prioritise the most serious cases – claims issued before the ban was introduced on 26 March 2020, cases involving anti-social behaviour, extreme rent arrears, domestic abuse, fraud and deception, illegal occupiers, squatters and abandoned properties, as well as historic cases where rent has not been paid for over a year

For secure tenancies:

  • Notice periods for grounds that relate to anti-social behaviour (including the grounds for nuisance/illegal or immoral use of the property), domestic abuse, riot, and fraud will return to their original notice periods, before the Coronavirus Act 2020 was introduced. This change reflects that these cases place an untenable strain on other tenants, local communities and landlords, and that it is no longer proportionate to allow them to continue without resolution
  • Notice periods for rent arrears will be amended so that if at least six months of rent is unpaid, then landlords will be able to provide four weeks’ notice. Where arrears owed are under six months, landlords will be required to provide six months’ notice

Notice periods for Introductory Tenancies for cases relating to anti-social behaviour (including rioting) and domestic abuse will be four weeks. This is broadly in line with the proposed notice periods for cases relating to anti- social behaviour and domestic abuse.

Otherwise, notice periods for Introductory Tenancies will be six months, in line with most other grounds. This reflects that social landlords have identified anti-social behaviour as a key issue.

Notice periods for Demoted Tenancies for cases relating to anti-social behaviour (including rioting) and domestic abuse will be four weeks. This reflects the minimum notice period for possession proceedings for Demoted Tenancies under section 143E and is broadly in line with the proposed notice periods for cases relating to anti-social behaviour and domestic abuse.

Otherwise, notice periods for Demoted Tenancies will be six months, in line with most other grounds. Demoted Tenancies are used where secure tenants have caused a nuisance through anti-social behaviour. This reflects that social landlords have identified anti-social behaviour as a key issue.

Temporary changes to procedures still stand, with amended dates for applications and notices These include:

  • For applications sent to court before 3 August 2020, claimants will need to issue a ‘reactivation notice’ in writing to the court as these applications have been suspended (stayed)
  • This means that:
    • Claims made before 3 August 2020 will not automatically be processed by the court; they will need to be reactivated
    • Failure to submit a ‘reactivation notice’ on a claim issued before 3 August 2020 by 4pm on 29 January 2021, will then require a normal application to lift the stay
    • For claims made after 3 August 2020, no ‘reactivation notice’ will be needed. It is also not required where a possession order was previously granted then stayed
  • The defendant, meanwhile, will need to state that they want to resume stayed proceedings after the expiry of the stay.
  • Claimants must provide any relevant information about the defendant’s circumstances, including information on the effect of the pandemic on the defendant and their dependants. This is primarily so the court can consider defendants’ vulnerability, disability, and social security position, and those who are “shielding.”
  • Claimants will need to produce the full arrears history of the defendant in advance, rather than at the hearing (as far as practicable)
  • The court will be able to fix a date either on or after issue, so that hearings are appropriately spread out
  • The court can suspend the standard period between issue of a claim form and hearing (which would usually be no more than eight weeks) to spread out hearings appropriately and ensure that the court has capacity

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Review hearing bundles

It’s also important to note that cases at the hearing stage after the issue of a ‘reactivation notice’ should be listed for a ‘review hearing’ by the court.

This stage has been introduced to alleviate the current backlog of cases and assist the courts in prioritising the most urgent cases.

A Judge will look at a bundle filed and decide whether the matter should proceed afterwards to a ‘substantive hearing’ at which point a possession order can be granted.

Since preparing said bundle can be a complicated and time consuming job, Landlord Action has put together a specialist team to help landlords with this process – get in touch to find out more.

Working together

Of course, there is a great deal of harmony between landlords and tenants that has developed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Indeed, in the vast majority of cases, landlords have been able to come to an agreement with their tenants, either by giving them payment holidays or reducing rental fees in certain circumstances.

However, until now landlords have been unable to evict problem tenants.

But this eviction ban exemption is still insufficient, says Landlord Action Founder and Hamilton Fraser Brand Ambassador, Paul Shamplina.

In fact, Landlord Action has around 1000 cases on their books alone that pre-date the pandemic too, most of which are now frozen in court but are still accruing rent arrears.

“Whilst this is a positive step forward, there is a long way to go in clearing the backlog of cases and my concern now is for those landlords who have cases with, for example, seven months of rent arrears prior to March.

With the current lockdown and then the Christmas amnesty, evictions will not be enforced by bailiffs until 21 February 2021 at the very earliest, so even in the best case scenario, those landlords will be facing more than 18 months without rent.”

– Paul Shamplina, Landlord Action Founder and Hamilton Fraser Brand Ambassador