The coronavirus pandemic has created difficulties for many landlords as a result of the government placing suspensions on all possession proceedings. This has brought the possession and eviction process to a complete standstill. Throughout the suspension, Stephensons has been working closely with many landlords in both the social and private sectors, to not only advise on changes, but also to provide guidance on how best to secure possession of their properties once that suspension lifts.
Here senior associate solicitor Andrew Whitehead explains how the team at Stephensons can assist landlords and provides guidance on new legislation relating to notice periods, whether any exemptions are available and what will have changed when the suspension of possession proceedings is lifted.
What experience does Stephensons have in terms of assisting residential landlords?
Stephensons has a wealth of experience in assisting residential landlords, from providing advice at the initial stages to allow a landlord to serve a valid notice seeking possession, right through to representing landlords at contested hearings and trials. Stephensons expertise is acknowledged by insurers, as we act on behalf of several legal expenses insurers in this area. This also means that we’re experienced in helping landlords all over the country.
What does the new legislation mean regarding eviction of tenants and how much notice needs to be given?
New regulations provided temporary notice periods, which a landlord must provide to a tenant before commencing possession proceedings. For the most common notices, those being section 21 and section eight based on ground eight for rent arrears, the notice periods are now six months.
Are there any exemptions to the 6 month notice period?
There are several grounds that can be relied upon to serve a section eight notice, and the notice period can vary accordingly. For ground eight, if the rent is in areas of over six months, the notice period is now four weeks. It would be advisable to seek advice before serving that notice, to ensure you provide a tenant with a sufficient notice period, otherwise a landlord will risk that notice being found to be invalid, which will prevent obtaining possession by relying on that notice, and it could lead to significant costly delays.
When did this take effect and when does it run to?
This area has been evolving throughout the coronavirus pandemic, but the latest changes to the notice periods came into effect on the 29th of August, and for the moment they’ll be in place until March 2021.
What will have changed when the suspension to possession proceedings claims is lifted and what must a landlord do when making a claim?
So, for both new and existing claims, there’s further work for the landlord to complete, specifically to confirm their understanding of how coronavirus has affected the tenants and any dependents, And that’s from both a work, financial, and health point of view. For new cases, a COVID notice will need to be submitted at the start of the case, or ahead of hearing being listed. For existing claims, a landlord will need to complete a reactivation notice, which deals with similar issues. Before a hearing is listed the court will now list a review date, and before that the court will encourage the parties to work together to either agree future directions for the case, or to agree settlement terms. Landlords will need to file and serve a bundle ahead of this review date, after which a judge will complete a five-minute review of the case, without the parties’ attendance. If the judge considers that a hearing is required one will be listed, but that is only 28 days after that review date. The main change that all landlords will need to be prepared for is likely delays. The courts will be working through significant backlogs and hearings are no longer being block listed, as it’s looking like the court is going to be working at around 25% of its previous capacity for these types of claims.
How can Stephensons help landlords in the face of this new legislation?
We can help guide a landlord through the changes to legislation and procedures to ensure that possession is sought in the most time and cost-effective manner. One miscalculation with either the notice seeking possession, or forgetting to file a COVID notice, could lead to costly delays, and ultimately prevent a landlord obtaining possession. We’re expecting the court to publish further guidance shortly, which will place emphasis on the availability of advice for tenants, which includes exploring settlements. Therefore it’s recommended that a landlord also seek specialist commercial advice, to ensure that possession’s sought in the most time and cost effective way.
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