Law guide: Property

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Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Property and coronavirus

In this section you'll find information and updates related to coronavirus that are relevant to the laws on property.

The UK's response to coronavirus is changing regularly and often very quickly. While we'll continue to make every effort to keep this page up to date, there may be short periods where what you read here is not the latest information available. Where possible we've tried to provide links to official sources, so you can check the current situation.

Business leases

Eviction freeze

Business tenants are temporarily protected from eviction due to unpaid rent.

The protection doesn't extend to cover for other payments under a lease, such as service charges and insurance – which is potentially a loophole that landlords could exploit, depending on the wording of the lease.

If you're struggling to pay rent, discuss the situation with your landlord – be sure to put anything that you both agree in writing.

England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Landlords of commercial properties in England, Wales and Northern Ireland cannot use their right of re-entry or claim forfeiture for non-payment of rent and cannot enforce current court claims. This applies to all businesses until 30 September 2021 for properties in Wales and Northern Ireland and until 25 March 2022 for properties in England.

In England and Wales landlords also cannot use commercial rent arrears recovery (a statutory procedure that allows landlords of commercial leases to recover rent arrears by taking control of their tenant's goods and selling them), until a certain number of days' net rent is owed to them. As a result of the pandemic, this number of days has increased several times. From 25 March 2021, it is 457 days. It will increase again on 24 June 2021 to 554 days. It's due to return to normal from 25 March 2022.

The government has said it will introduce new legislation for properties in England (before 25 March 2022) for businesses that have remained closed during the pandemic and have been unable to pay their rent. The unpaid rent will be ring-fenced, and landlords and tenants will need to work together to reach an agreement on how it should be repaid (such as by waiving some of the total amount or agreeing a longer-term repayment plan).

If an agreement cannot be reached, both parties must enter an arbitration process, resulting in a binding outcome.

The Welsh Government will consider the matter further for Wales in the coming months. It's unclear if the new legislation will also apply to Northern Ireland.

Note that rent accumulated by businesses before March 2020 and/or after they were allowed to re-open, will be actionable once restrictions serving statutory demands or winding up proceedings are lifted.

In the meantime, landlords and tenants should consider using the government's voluntary code of practice that's been developed with business leaders in the retail, hospitality and property sectors. It provides best practice on how to deal with leases held by businesses that have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 during the recovery, with an emphasis on discussing rent payments.

Scotland

Landlords cannot use their right to claim irritancy for non-payment of rent until the end of September 2021. Any notice served must give 14 weeks' (not 14 days') notice.

Restrictions on statutory demands and winding-up petitions

The UK government's Corporate Insolvency and Governance Act further limits the options available to landlords of commercial property. It temporarily stops:

  • certain statutory demands made by creditors from being effective, and
  • winding-up petitions from being brought against a company on the grounds that it can't pay its debts (or a winding-up order being made on those grounds), if the inability to pay is the result of COVID-19.

For more on this, see our Coronavirus (COVID-19) Debts and debt recovery section.

Business rates support

See our Coronavirus (COVID-19) guide on Debts and debt recovery for information on the business rates support that's currently available.

Residential tenancies

Changes to court rules for possession claims (England & Wales)

Due to the pandemic, most claims for possession and claims to enforce possession orders were 'stayed' (paused).

Temporary court rules have been introduced to allow landlords to resume these claims. In some cases, these rules also change the requirements for making new claims. These new rules are due to remain in place until 30 November 2021 (extended from 30 July 2021).

The new rules are designed to allow courts to manage the backlog of paused cases, with priority cases being dealt with first. Priority cases include those involving antisocial behaviour, rent arrears of over a year, domestic abuse, squatters, fraud or unlawful subletting. Landlords won't be encouraged to pursue other 'non-priority' cases.

Depending on when your claim started, the new rules will require you to give the following notices to both the court and the tenant(s).

  • A reactivation notice (the deadline for sending this passed at 4pm on 30 April 2021)
  • A completed Form N244 (to resume claims if you didn't send a reactivation notice in time)
  • A notice of the effect that the coronavirus pandemic has had on the tenants and any dependants.

Application Form N244

This form should be sent to the court if you made a claim any time before 3 August 2020, want to resume it and did not send the court a reactivation notice in time. You will need to send the form with a court fee. It's available to download from GOV.UK.

It's not currently clear what information the form should contain, except for letting the court know whether you want the hearing to be dealt with remotely. Otherwise, neither the court rules nor government guidance specify anything. For now, we recommend that you should complete it with the same information required by a reactivation notice: confirm that you want to resume your claim and give details of what you know about the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the tenants.

Other required documents

You may also have needed to send the court the following documents:

Updated rent schedule: This should have been sent with a reactivation notice, if your possession claim is based on rent arrears and you were not appealing a court order. It needed to contain an updated schedule of rental payments (missed and paid) going back 2 years (or for as long as the tenant has lived in the property if this is less than 2 years). It's not currently clear whether you need to send it when sending the court Form N244, but for now we suggest you do to avoid potential delays. You can use our document Updated rent arrears schedule and witness statement for possession hearing to create this.

If case management directions were made before 20 September 2020: When a defence is filed, a judge will read the papers and give any case management directions that seem appropriate. They are usually contained in a court order known as a 'directions order' or 'case management directions order'. Directions are a list of tasks the parties must complete before a final hearing date is set by the court, such as providing documents and witness statements.

If any case management directions were made before 20 September 2020, you should have sent the reactivation notice to the court and the tenants with:

  • A copy of the last directions order and new dates for compliance with the directions (taking into account the pause before 20 September 2020); and
  • Either a draft order suggesting new directions (including proposing a new hearing date), or a written statement confirming that no new directions are required and that you can attend an existing hearing date, stating whether you think the case can be heard by video or phone link (rather than in person).

Once received by the tenants, they would have had 14 days to respond if they don't agree with anything you've said.

It is not clear if the same requirements apply when sending form N244 to the court.

Notice of the effect that the coronavirus pandemic has had on the tenant

In some situations, you'll need to provide any information you know about the effect that the coronavirus pandemic has had on the tenant and any of their dependants (even if you don't know). This notice has to be given in the following situations:

  • When sending a reactivation notice, unless you're appealing a possession order. It's not clear if it should be sent with Form N244.
  • To prepare for a review hearing (unless you're appealing a possession order). A notice of review will be sent by the court if you have a claim to recover possession and rent arrears. It will require you to send a bundle of documents, including this one.
  • At any possession hearing (i.e. under the section 8 or section 21 procedure), if you made your claim on or after 3 August 2020 – you must bring 2 copies of the notice to the hearing, and give a copy to the tenant at least 14 days before the hearing.
  • When sending a new claim to the court on or after 3 August 2020 using the accelerated (section 21) possession procedure.

Note: Government COVID-19 possession process guidance says that you should also send this notice when starting a new claim with claim forms N5 and N119 (i.e. having previously sent the tenant a section 8 notice). However, this advice contradicts the official court procedure rules, so it's unclear if you strictly need to send it in this situation or how the court will react if you don't. It will be safer to send it anyway, as there's no harm in doing so.

You can use our document Possession claim notice: effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the tenant to create the notice.

Landlords in financial difficulty

If you're seeking possession as a direct result of financial difficulty that you've suffered in the pandemic, you can mark your application as a COVID-19 case.

You'll need to give brief details of the particular difficulty you're facing, and whether you've received any help under a COVID-19 scheme (e.g. a mortgage holiday on your buy-to-let mortgage).

The court will use this information to make decisions about how quickly to process your claim, and to guide it if you're relying on any discretionary grounds to get possession.

Pause on bailiff enforcement action

In England, bailiffs have been able to resume enforcement action since 1 June 2021.

In Wales, bailiffs have been able to resume enforcement action since 1 July 2021.

In Scotland, eviction orders won't be enforced in areas under level 3 or level 4 restrictions, until 30 September 2021. There are exceptions for cases of serious anti-social or criminal behaviour, including domestic abuse.

Government guidance

The government has issued guidance for landlords for possession claims and the new court procedure. It includes information such as how long the court process may take, what to do if your tenant is in rent arrears or engaged in anti-social behaviour, and what you need for a possession hearing and the possible outcomes.

Pre-action requirements for rent arrears claims (Scotland)

Where tenants are in rent arrears, new regulations require landlords to take certain steps before raising claims for possession or applying for eviction orders. The requirements will apply where the landlord has raised proceedings at, or made an application to, the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland on or after 6 October 2020.

Required information

You must give the tenants clear information about:

  • The terms of the tenancy agreement;
  • The total amount of rent arrears;
  • Their rights regarding claims for eviction or possession (including these pre-action requirements); and
  • How they can access information and advice on financial support and debt management.

Required action

You must make reasonable efforts to agree with the tenant a payment plan for the arrears and future payments. You must also reasonably consider:

  • Any steps they take that may affect their ability to pay the rent arrears within a reasonable time;
  • The extent to which they've complied with the terms of the agreed payment (if any); and
  • Any changes to their circumstances that are likely to impact the extent to which they comply with the terms of a payment plan.

Notice period extensions

England and Wales

Due to the pandemic, there are temporary measures forcing landlords to give tenants extra notice when sending them section 8 notices or section 21 notices. These measures apply until 30 September 2021 (extended from 31 May 2021 in England and 30 June in Wales).

Section 8 notices

The usual notice period for section 8 notices varies depending on the grounds being used, e.g. 2 weeks for those served on the grounds of there being 8 weeks of unpaid rent.

In England, you must now give tenants 4 months' notice, unless you need to evict because of:

  • more than 4 months of rent arrears: 4 weeks' notice;
  • the death of your tenant (ground 7): 2 months' notice;
  • serious anti-social behaviour (ground 7A): 4 weeks' notice for periodic tenancies or 1 month for fixed-term tenancies;
  • nuisance/annoyance, illegal/immoral use of property (ground 14): no notice required, proceedings can start straight after serving the section 8 notice;
  • acquiring the property by relying on a false statement (ground 17): 2 weeks' notice (or 4 weeks if you're also relying on certain other grounds); or
  • a breach of the 'Right to rent' immigration rules (ground 7B): 2 weeks' notice (or 4 weeks if you're also relying on certain other grounds).

This applies to all notices given from 1 June 2021. Between 29 August 2020 and 31 May 2021 (inclusive) it was 6 months' notice (with some reasons for eviction requiring less). Between 26 March and 28 August 2020, it was 3 months' notice (whatever the ground used).

From 1 August 2021, it will drop to 2 months' notice (with the same exceptions listed above).

You can read more on the notice requirements for the different grounds in the government guide Coronavirus Act 2020 and renting.

In Wales, 3 months' notice was required for notices that were given to tenants between 26 March and 23 July 2020 (whatever the grounds used). This was then extended to 6 months for notices that were given to tenants between 24 July and 28 September 2020, unless they used grounds 7A or 14 (which are about antisocial behaviour) – the 3-month period still applied to those.

Since then, 6 months' notice is now required for notices that are given to tenants up until 30 September 2021, except if the grounds used relate to anti-social behaviour or domestic violence – the notice period in those cases has returned to the pre-coronavirus position, as follows:

  • Serious anti-social behaviour (ground 7A): 4 weeks' notice for periodic tenancies or 1 month for fixed-term tenancies
  • Nuisance/annoyance, illegal/immoral use of property (ground 14): no notice required, proceedings can start straight after serving notice
  • Domestic violence (ground 14A): 2 weeks' notice (if claimed without other grounds).

Section 21 notices

The usual notice period for section 21 notices is 2 months.

In England, you must give at least 4 months' notice from 1 June 2021. It was 6 months' notice between 29 August 2020 and 31 May 2021 (inclusive), and 3 months between 26 March and 28 August 2020.

In Wales, 3 months' notice is required for notices that were given to tenants between 26 March and 23 July 2020. This has since been extended to 6 months for notices that are given to tenants between 24 July and 30 September 2021 (inclusive).

Scotland

The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 has temporarily made all 18 grounds for eviction in the private sector discretionary.

Notices to leave served between 7 April and 2 October 2020 (inclusive) have an extended period of up to 6 months, depending on the ground being used. For example, if you are seeking to evict a tenant for rent arrears, the minimum notice period before you can apply for an eviction order is 6 months. See mygov.scot for details of which period applies to each ground.

Since 3 October, the 6-month notice requirement still applies in most cases, but the notice period for some grounds has been shortened. For example, the following grounds only require 28 days' notice:

  • The tenant has a relevant criminal conviction
  • The tenant has engaged in relevant antisocial behaviour
  • The tenant has associated in the let property with someone who has a criminal conviction or is antisocial.

See mygov.scot for more details. These provisions will expire on 30 September 2021.

Northern Ireland

Landlords of private tenancies must give their tenants at least 12 weeks' notice to leave their property. This applies to all notices to quit issued from 5 May until at least 30 September 2021. The Northern Ireland Assembly may extend this further.

See the Department for communities for more.

Gas safety checks and other repairs

Gas safety

Your health and safety obligations to your tenants haven't changed as a result of the pandemic, though they may be more difficult to carry out.

Gas safety checks should continue. That may not be possible if the tenants are self-isolating and refusing access. In those cases, make a list of all the actions you've taken to try and arrange the check, so that you can later show (if necessary) that you took all reasonable steps to fulfil your obligation.

The Gas Safe Register has published guidance for landlords on this.

Other repairs

You still have a duty to deal with urgent problems.

If the tenant household is isolating, tradespeople should not enter unless the work is an emergency repair – that means something that poses a risk to the household if left unfixed (e.g. a water leak or an unsafe structure).

Government guidance for England and Wales

The government has issued guidance for landlords about health and safety obligations during the pandemic, including repairs and inspections.

Amendments to right-to-rent checks in England

Temporary changes to right to rent checks are in place until 31 August 2021 (extended from 20 June 2021). You can carry out checks via video calls, or view scans or photographs of documents.

After this, the normal procedure will apply. You'll need to check the tenant's original documents or check their right to rent online (using the government's checking service). Note, however, that you won't need to redo any checks that you made using the temporary measures (provided you did so properly).

See GOV.UK for more.

Government advice

Official advice on the effects of coronavirus is available for landlords in:

England

Wales

Scotland; and

Northern Ireland.

Construction site operating procedures

The construction industry is expected to comply with the latest site operating procedures (SOP) issued by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC).

The SOP is based on the guidance provided by Public Health England (PHE) (different guidance may apply to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and this is in turn enforced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Where a construction site consistently does not comply with the requirements of the HSE it may be subject to enforcement action.

This SOP sets out in detail the considerations relevant to operating construction sites during the pandemic, such as:

  • When to Go to Work
  • Travel to Work
  • Driving at Work
  • Site Access and Egress Points
  • Hand Washing
  • Toilet Facilities
  • Canteens and Rest Areas
  • Changing Facilities, Showers and Drying Rooms
  • Work Planning to Avoid Close Working
  • First Aid and Emergency Service Response
  • Cleaning

The best way for construction companies to protect their workers while working during the pandemic is to follow the SOP as closely as possible, and make construction workers aware of its contents so that each can individually comply to protect themselves and each other.

Building work disputes

Due to the pandemic and its effects on the ability to complete building work in the normal way and within the normal timescales, there will potentially be many disputes. Contractual obligations that are likely to come under pressure include:

  • the supplier's ability to complete contracts on time;
  • the owner's ability to make payments on time; and
  • suppliers claiming that they're experiencing a situation 'outside their control' (i.e. a Force Majeure), requiring extensions of completion and performance dates.

The government has issued guidance that aims to encourage responsible and fair contractual behaviour.

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