Another Friday and some more news items for you:
Possession claims changes
The government have now revealed their plans for possession claims through the courts after 23 August, and it seems as if after all we are not going to get a ‘pre-action protocol’ for the Private Rented Sector.
Instead, there are new procedures, set out in Practice Direction 55C, which will apply for an “interim period” from 23 August 2020 until 28 March 2021. Unless it is extended.
So what does it say? Well, it depends on (if you are looking to evict) what stage you are at. There is a useful article by David Smith on this but in short:
- When attending any court hearings, or issuing accelerated proceedings, you need to give the court a notice setting out what you know about the effect of coronavirus on the tenants.
- All claims issued before 3 August will only re-start after the landlord has provided a ‘reactivation notice’ which needs to set out
- what a party is asking the court to do; and
- any information about the effect of the Coronavirus pandemic on the tenant and their dependants.
- If you don’t do this the case will remain stayed indefinitely.
- For rent, arrears claims you also need to provide an updated schedule of rent arrears for the previous two years along with your reactivation notice.
- If you have a hearing date already, this will be vacated unless you serve your re-activation notice not less than 42 days before the hearing date.
- If you fail to file and serve a reactivation notice in respect of a claim issued before 3 August 2020 by 4pm on 29 January 2021, the claim will be automatically stayed.
- The rule saying that cases for possession must be listed within 8 weeks of issue will no longer apply
David concludes by saying:
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this is all a set of procedural devices to make cases just go away. The various notices about the effects of coronavirus will have no effect on a court making a possession order under s21 or under a mandatory possession ground because the court simply has no discretion in these areas.
However, as the new requirements are buried in the procedural rules and will not be mentioned on any forms it is likely that a fair few claimants will fail to provide the proper notices at the right times, at which point court staff or judges will simply dismiss their cases.
Likewise, as existing cases will mostly remain stayed without a reactivation notice being served and the court is very unlikely to write to claimants to tell them this, these cases will simply remain stayed without many claimants actually realising they have to do anything.
This will have the effect of spacing out cases and making it look like the court is handling matters quickly, even though they will in fact be simply using procedural devices to get rid of stuff without dealing with it at all.
Landlords needing to evict tenants are probably best advised to use solicitors (if they can afford them) or at least obtain legal advice. Make sure you use a firm experienced in this area such as Landlord Action or one of the solicitors providing the Landlord Law Telephone Advice service.
I will be updating the Landlord Law eviction guide very soon to deal with these new rules.
No eviction without notice
One other change to mention here is that at least 14 days notice must be given in all cases of eviction (save for trespassers) by inserting the notice through the letterbox, or affixing the notice to the premises – so High Court Enforcement Officers will no longer be able to turn up unannounced.
For more information see this Nearly Legal post.
This will also come into force on 23 August.
Longer notice periods in Wales
The above rules apply (so far as I am aware) to both England and Wales, but Wales has now introduced a new change by increasing notice periods to six months, although apparently this change is only temporary and will not apply to cases of anti-social behaviour.
As you can imagine Welsh landlords are most unhappy about this.
Ben Beadle, chief executive of the NRLA said:
The news that the notice period will be increased from three to six months will come as a real hammer blow to landlords in Wales.
Some may already have tenants who were building up arrears prior to Covid, now not only have they been hit by the five-month moratorium on repossessions but they will have to give a further six-months’ notice.
Even after this, it is unlikely the courts will be able to hear these cases straight away, so landlords could quite easily be looking at 18 months with no income. Effectively depriving a landlord of their right to evict as we come out of lockdown is unacceptable.
The Welsh Government must act swiftly to address this, by offering interest-free loans to tenants to cover unpaid rent and remove any risk of eviction. Where tenants refuse to apply for loans but continue to build arrears, landlords will need greater assistance.
Masks in agents’ premises
The new rules which come into force today on the wearing of masks in shops and offices do not mention letting and estate agencies.
However, Propertymark has now issued guidance saying
In line with Propertymark best practice guidance, estate and lettings agents should only be welcoming visitors on an appointment basis and when all other methods of communication have been exhausted.
It is not necessary for agency staff to wear a face-covering while sharing an office with the same group of people and social distancing.
However, when dealing with any type of visitor, any member of staff in proximity should wear a face covering. Visitors to the office should also be asked in advance to wear a face covering.
‘Breathing space’ scheme
An article on LandlordZONE tells us that new rules are likely to be introduced next year to give people in debt time to get proper professional advice and reduce the stress caused by impending legal action.
The new regulations which cover most debt including rent arrears – aim to give debtors a better chance to stabilise their finances during a 60-day moratorium on interest, charges and enforcement action while they seek help.
The new rules are due to take effect from 4th May 2021.
- Face coverings in estate agency branches – not compulsory
- COVID-19 and renting: guidance for landlords, tenants and local authorities – gov’t advice has been updated
- Croydon Council seeks government approval to renew landlord licensing scheme
- Huge shake-up of leasehold proposed by Law Commission
- Agents asked for views on first draft of future Code of Practice
- BTL landlords should prepare to take advantage of Green Homes grants
- Private tenants need greater protection and more power – report
- 48% drop in student numbers causes London rents to fall
Newsround will be back next week.