Due to the coronavirus pandemic the government has changed the rules for landlords wanting to obtain possession of their property. In most cases this has made the process longer and more complicated. The steps that need to be followed are detailed below.
Stage 1 – Negotiation
Whilst not essential, there is an expectation that landlords will have tried to resolve any disputes with their tenants before taking any more formal steps. The situation that the government are wanting to avoid is that of tenants being evicted for rent arrears when the reason the tenant cannot pay their rent is due to having lost their job for a coronavirus-related reason. It will be seen in Stage 3 (below) that in the application for possession the landlord must say how the pandemic has affected the tenant and therefore best to have this conversation with the tenant at an early stage.
Stage 2 – Notice
The notice period that must be given to tenants has changed significantly in that if a landlord is giving notice to their tenant between 29.8.20 to at least 31.3.21 (this date may be extended depending how the pandemic progresses) they must give at least 6 months’ notice for most grounds. This includes s.21 notices.
There are exceptions to this where in certain circumstances a shorter notice period can be given and we can advise landlords regarding these.
Stage 3 – Court Application
Assuming the tenant has not vacated the premises after being given notice, then on expiry of the notice period the landlord may apply to the Court for possession. It is at this stage that the landlord has to file evidence setting out what effect, if any, the coronavirus pandemic has had on either the landlord or the tenant. It is for this reason that the negotiation stage above should be the first step.
Should the tenant subsequently file a defence then the landlord will receive a copy. However, with a s. 8 notice just because a tenant does not file a defence does not mean that they will not turn up at the hearing a Stage 5 and put forward a defence then.
Alternatively, if the application is based on a s.21 notice and no defence is filed then possession should be ordered without the following 2 steps being necessary.
Stage 4 – Review Appointment
This is a new step in the procedure.
This is not a Court hearing as such because there will not be a hearing in front of a judge. Instead, both the landlord and tenant will attend (for the time being by telephone rather than physically at the Court) with the expectation that they will try and negotiate a settlement.
The guidance states that there will be a duty legal advisor scheme available for tenants at the Review Appointment to allow them be able to obtain advice with the hope that this will assist settlement.
Stage 5 – Court Hearing
If a settlement cannot be reached at the Review then a date will be set for a formal hearing before a Judge. This will take place a minimum of 28 days after the Review.
At this hearing the Judge will either:
- Order possession of the property; or
- Set directions if further information/documentation is required because of matters raised in the defence.
Stage 6 – Eviction
Once possession is ordered the tenant must vacate the property by a certain date. However, if the tenant does not leave then the landlord will then need to apply to evict the tenant by either:
- The Court bailiff – this is the cheapest option, but generally rather slow; or
- A High Court enforcement officer – this is considerably more expensive, but usually quicker than the bailiff.
If a landlord made an application for possession prior to 3.8.20 then they must issue a Reactivation Notice stating that they wish to continue with the claim.
The process can be complicated and lengthy. Here at Waller Needham & Green we have experts who can guide you through the process. For more information or advice please contact Nick Robertshaw from our Dispute Resolution department on 01733 262182 or firstname.lastname@example.org