Article by Katie Wilkinson
The true financial impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus is yet to be felt, but for many the inability to pay rent on their homes is a real problem that they are facing imminently.
The government announced emergency legislation on 18 March 2020 which included extensive measures to protect renters and landlords affected by coronavirus.
The effect of the legislation means that no persons in rented accommodation (including both social housing and private properties) will be forced to move out of their home during the period that COVID-19 affects society.
Landlords will be unable to commence possession proceedings to evict tenants for a period of at least 3 months. To address the unfairness that arises for landlords who may not be receiving their rental income, they can apply for a 3 month mortgage payment holiday meaning that they will not have the financial pressures of meeting mortgage payments, and in turn will not need to place pressure on tenants to pay rent.
At the end of the 3 month period the Government has stated that landlords and tenants will be expected to work together to establish an affordable repayment plan, taking into account tenants’ individual circumstances.
The bill acts to extend the period of notice for all types of tenancy to 3 months irrespective of what the grounds for possession are.
For example Section 21 notices previously required a notice period of 2 months, so in practical terms the legislation extends that period by 1 month. The legislation applies, however, to all notices seeking possession until 30 September 2020. The Bill does allow for further legislation to be passed to extend the 30 September date, and to lengthen the notice period further if required.
Landlords can continue to issue proceedings either in relation to notices which have already expired or notices which will expire prior to 30 September 2020. Such claims are routinely being stayed until the 90-day period has expired but in any event, whether the Court would be able to hear such claims in the next 3 months is unlikely.
On 19 March 2020 a message was released from The Lord Chief Justice to judges in the civil and family courts which reads:
“The default position now in all jurisdictions must be that hearings should be conducted with one, more than one or all participants attending remotely. That will not always be possible. Sensible precautions should be taken when people attend a hearing. They are now well-known. We all take them when out of the home”
Whilst the civil courts have utilised telephone hearings for many years, they are rarely ever used when one party is unrepresented (which means that a person is not using the services of a Solicitor and instead represents himself).
Guidance from the Courts and the Government is evolving almost daily to take into account new information and issues arising as a direct result of COVID-19. Whilst the new measures will be welcomed by persons in rented accommodation, it should not be forgotten that any rent unpaid in the next 3 months will ultimately become repayable in full. The financial implications of this will no doubt subsist for many months to come and, whilst the Court may be sympathetic to financial problems caused by COVID-19, the laws applicable to possession claims will still be in force once the current situation improves.