After many promises from the Government to protect tenants from eviction at this time of national emergency, the Coronavirus Bill received Royal Assent on 25 March 2020 and became the Coronavirus Act 2020 (“the Act”).
The Act spans 358 pages and contains numerous temporary powers and changes to existing legislation in order to ease the burden on public services and authorities to enable them to tackle the coronavirus. Section 81 and Schedule 29 of the Act contain some very significant changes to the serving of notices in relation to residential tenancies.
Currently, a landlord wishing to regain possession of a property let to a tenant pursuant to an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (“AST”) must serve either a section 8 notice or a section 21 notice on their tenant. Depending upon the ground(s) relied upon in the second 8 notice, the minimum period of notice to be given to the tenant is between 2 weeks and 2 months. A section 21 notice must give at least 2 months’ notice to a tenant.
Further to a number of announcements by the Government over the last few weeks, many tenants may be under the impression that the Government has banned the serving of notices whilst the United Kingdom remains in a state of emergency. The provisions of the Act confirm that that is not the case. The effect of the Act is simply to extend the required notice period under both section 8 and section 21 to a minimum of three months. The Act only applies to notices served between 26 March 2020 and 30 September 2020 which means that any notices served before the commencement of the Act should still be valid. However, ongoing possession claims remain suspended for the next 3 months initially which means that no possession orders will be granted or enforced until at least the end of June, and possibly longer.
The Act does nothing to suspend rental payments, which means that tenants are still obliged to pay rent during this period. Landlords are however being encouraged by the Government to adopt a flexible and compassionate approach to rent arrears.
When the suspensions on existing possession claims is lifted, it is likely that there will be delays to both new and existing cases as the county courts embrace the use of technology to conduct hearings. The default position for now is that attendance at court will not be required by the parties save for exceptional circumstances, and most hearings are to be conducted either by video conference or over the telephone.
If you are a landlord or a tenant and you require advice upon the Coronavirus Act 2020 and how its provisions may affect your tenancy agreement, please contact our experienced property litigation team on 01273 249200 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org