Relations between Residential Landlords and Tenants in the time of Coronavirus
By John Arnold, Partner and Head of Commercial Law
A ban on residential evictions was first introduced in March for a three-month period, this has now been extended by the Government for a further two months so that the suspension of new evictions will last until 23 August.
This will not apply to the eviction of squatters or unlawful occupants, but it will apply to most residential tenancies including assured shorthold tenancies.
The effect of the Government’s ban is that eviction hearings on the grounds of rent arrears will not be heard in courts until the end of August. Starting new court proceedings will not be available to landlords until at least September. The Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick MP has stated that “We are also working with the Judiciary on proposals to ensure that when evictions proceedings do recommence, arrangements, including rules, are in place to assist the court in giving appropriate protections for those who have been particularly affected by coronavirus – including those tenants who have been shielding”.
However, it should be noted that the requirement to pay rent has not been waived or suspended, the rent due to landlords will still accrue during this period. In the months to come the courts will be looking for landlords and tenants to resolve the payment of rent arrears in as fair a way as possible.
The Government announcement states that: “Where tenants do experience financial difficulties as a result of the pandemic, the Government is clear that landlords and tenants should work together and exhaust all possible options – such as flexible payment plans which take into account a tenant’s individual circumstances – to ensure cases only end up in court as an absolute last resort”.
Having said that, it is anticipated that once the 23 August has passed, there will be a backlog and a build up of cases where landlords will be seeking possession on the grounds of unpaid rent. While the courts may be ready to leap into action at that point, I suspect there will be delays and resource issues with the courts themselves at that time. This may mean that issues of this nature cannot be resolved through the courts for some considerable period. In the circumstances, the Government’s encouragement for landlords and tenants to work together should very much be borne in mind, the court service will find itself under a huge amount of pressure to deal with commercial disputes and landlord and tenant matters (as well as all its other responsibilities) once the pandemic has eased.
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Please note: This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.