Residential Tenancies and Coronavirus (COVID19)
The Government has brought into force the Coronavirus Act 2020 (“the Act”) that deals with a whole range of issues the current pandemic has created. One of the matters dealt with by the Act is in relation to the issue of residential tenancies and what it means for tenants affected by cash flow who could face losing possession, as well as for landlords whose tenants are struggling to pay the rent.
The majority of tenancies in England and Wales are assured shorthold tenancies and it is these that the Act seeks to protect. The emergency provisions last until 30 September 2020 (although this could be extended if the Government felt it necessary to do so).
It is worth pointing out that despite the assistance given under the Act, tenants remain liable to pay rent as normal, although landlords should be flexible in their approach. It would be wise, for example, if a tenant was struggling to pay rent for them to be in touch with the landlord who ought to be prepared to agree some temporary rental arrangements to help the tenant through. Any rental “holiday” does not mean that the tenant would be relieved of the liability to pay the rent, unless the landlord agreed to it, but the landlord could for example agree immediately to reduce rent for a short period and then seek to recover the shortfall pro-rata over the remaining term or even write it off.
Whilst landlords would probably want to ensure that good tenants remain in their properties until this pandemic is over, relations may break down or other circumstances mean that possession by the landlord is sought. Although the Government would prefer no possession proceedings to be brought, it has not ruled them out completely. Instead, the Act extends the periods for the service by landlords of notices seeking possession. Under the Act, any notices a landlord wishes to serve to seek possession (whether by a section 21 notice at the end of a fixed term or a section 8 notice commonly served due to rental arrears during the rental term) must now give a period of 3 months’ notice to the tenant. Until now these periods had been shorter; in the case of rental arrears the notice required under section 8 for example, had been just two weeks.
For all other types of tenancies, here too the notice period is extended to at least 3 months.
As a consequence of the Act therefore, any possession proceedings cannot now be sent to the Court for issue until 3 months after the notice has been served. Even then, it is highly likely that by the time a hearing has been listed and heard, any possession order is not going to take effect until much later in the year (and probably after 30 September 2020). In this way, the Court is pushing back the ability of the landlord to take back possession of residential tenancies, thereby avoiding tenants losing possession during this period of lockdown, even if the tenant is not paying any rent or is in any other breach of the lease. It is also worth remembering that ongoing liabilities on the part of the landlord are not affected by the Act, although there will necessarily be some impact on some of those liabilities. For example, tenants should only allow the landlord access to the premises for emergency repairs (which are those repairs that affect the tenant’s ability to be safe in the premises). If current circumstances mean a landlord cannot gain access when otherwise access is required, a note should be kept by the landlord to explain the reasonable steps taken to seek to comply with their legal duties and why access was not possible.
If you would like to know more about Residential Tenancies and Coronavirus (COVID19) please contact Joanne Davies by email: email@example.com or phone: 01543 420059