Our civil litigation lawyers outline the process private residential landlords must now go through to regain possession of their property due to new Covid-19 rules

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Regaining possession of a rental property during the Covid-19 crisis

The coronavirus is causing problems for private landlords who want to evict tenants but are prevented from doing so by temporary rules introduced by the Government to avoid a surge in homelessness during the pandemic.

The situation is under constant review but, at present, it is not possible for most tenants to be evicted unless they have been given six months’ prior notice and the court agrees that repossession is appropriate, having regard to the impact Covid-19 has had on the tenant.

Previously, most private residential tenancies could be terminated by giving the tenant just two months’ notice and in some circumstances an even shorter period of warning.

As a landlord this puts you in a difficult position, particularly where you need a property back to meet your own housing needs or to tackle rent arrears which are beginning to have a crippling effect on your finances.  The good news is that there are steps you can take to make securing an eviction easier and a variety of circumstances where six months’ notice is not required and where repossession can therefore be secured more swiftly.

The rules are complex but Sian Meredith, experienced dispute resolution solicitor with Lawcomm Solicitors in Whiteley provides a brief outline and explains how they can assist.

In what circumstances do I have to give six months’ notice?

Six months’ notice will be required to end most private tenancies where notification of the need to vacate a property is served on a tenant on or after 29 August 2020.  This will be the case up until 31 March 2021, when the rules will be reviewed.

When is six months’ notice not required?

The need to give six months’ notice will not apply in a range of circumstances, including where the reason for seeking repossession is due to:

• rent arrears of at least six months;

• the tenant causing a nuisance or annoyance;

• the tenant using a property for illegal or immoral purposes;

• the tenant exhibiting serious anti-social behaviour;

• the tenant taking part in rioting; or

• the tenant breaching UK immigration laws, meaning they have no ‘right to rent.’

Where repossession is sought on one of these grounds, the notice required before an eviction order can be secured will vary from no notice at all to notice of between two weeks and three months, depending on the type of tenancy held.

Are courts dealing with eviction cases?

At the same time as the extended notice requirements were introduced, the courts put a bar on any possession orders being made.  This ran until 20 September 2020 and means that for nearly six months the courts have declined to deal with the vast majority of eviction requests.  As a result, an inevitable backlog has built up which now needs to be cleared.

Initially, priority will be given to those cases where possession is sought on the basis of serious wrongdoing by the tenant and where it is imperative that an eviction should be effected as soon as possible to relieve unacceptable pressure, whether to a landlord, other tenants, the local authority or indeed the wider community.

What does this mean for me?

If you are a landlord who wants to regain possession of a rental property in the near future, then it is important for you to act now so you can do this as soon as the rules allow.

To make the process as easy as possible, you should consult a property litigation lawyer who can advise you on:

• the grounds on which you can seek a possession order entitling you to carry out an eviction;

• the notice period you need to provide to the tenant in order to comply with the current rules;

• the form of notice you must give, which will depend on the grounds for possession and the type of tenancy;

• the information you need to gather in support of your application, which will include information relating to how the tenant has been impacted by Covid-19 and an up-to-date rent account for the last two years where possession is sought due to rent arrears;

• the process you will need to go through to achieve eviction in the event the tenant refuses to leave on a voluntary basis;

• whether it might be helpful for you and your tenant to attend an independent mediation which, if successful, could negate the need for a possession order to be made;

• how long you are likely to have to wait for the court to make a possession order, where required; and

• whether there is anything you can do to speed up the eviction process once an order for possession has been made, including transferring the case from the County Court to the High Court to avoid having to wait for a bailiff to become available to assist.

For further information, please contact Sian Meredith on 01489 864 152 or sian.meredith@lawcomm.co.uk.  

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.