Law guide: Landlords

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Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Contents

Landlords and coronavirus

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

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).

However, temporary new court rules have since been introduced to allow landlords to resume these claims. In some cases, these rules also change the requirements for making new claims. The new rules are due to remain in place until 28 March 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
  • A notice of the effect that the coronavirus pandemic has had on the tenants and any dependants.

Reactivation notice

This is needed to continue a claim made any time before 3 August 2020 that was then stayed by the court. It won't be needed if a final possession order has already been made, or if the court says so.

A reactivation notice must:

  • Confirm that you want to resume your claim and ask it to be either listed, relisted, heard by a judge (at a hearing) or, in limited situations, reviewed (without a hearing) by a judge
  • State what you know about the effect that the coronavirus pandemic has had on the tenant and their dependants (unless you're appealing a court order).

You can use our document Possession claim reactivation notice to create this.

Updated rent schedule

If your possession claim is based on rent arrears, you must send with the reactivation notice 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). This doesn't apply if you're appealing a court order.

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 must send 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 setting out suggested 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).

When this is received by the tenant, they will have 14 days to respond if they don't agree with anything you've said.

Time limits

If, before 27 March 2020, the court set a final hearing date, the notice must be given no less than 42 days before that final hearing date. Failing to do this will result in your claim being automatically paused and you'll lose your hearing date. You'll need to apply to (and pay) the court to have it reinstated.

For all other situations, you have until 4pm on 29 January 2021 (though, of course, you should send it as soon as possible as your claim won't progress until you do).

Next step by the court

Once the court has received the reactivation notice, it will usually give both parties at least 21 days' notice of a hearing date.

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

You may need to provide any information you know about the effect that the coronavirus pandemic has had on the tenant and any of their dependants. This notice has to be given in the following situations:

  • When sending a reactivation notice (see above)
  • 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.

You can use our document Possession claim notice: effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the tenant to create this (although note that we've also built this part in to our Possession claim reactivation notice).

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 31 March 2021.

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 6 months' notice, unless you need to evict because of:

  • more than 6 months of rent arrears: 4 weeks' 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 notice;
  • acquiring the property by relying on a false statement (ground 17): 2 weeks' notice; or
  • a breach of the 'Right to rent' immigration rules (ground 7B): 3 months' notice.

This applies to all notices given from 29 August 2020 to 31 March 2021 (inclusive). Between 26 March and 28 August 2020, it was 3 months' notice (whatever the grounds used).

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 31 March 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 6 months' notice from 29 August 2020 to 31 March 2021 (inclusive). It was 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 31 March 2021.

Scotland

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

Possession notices served on or after 7 April 2020 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 2020, 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.

These provisions will expire on 31 March 2021 (extended from 30 September 2020). They could then be extended for a second (and last) time to 30 September 2021.

Northern Ireland

Landlords of private tenancies must give their tenants at least 12 weeks' notice to leave their property under the Private Tenancies (Coronavirus Modifications) Act (Northern Ireland) 2020. This applies to all notices to quit issued from 5 May until at least 31 March 2021. The Northern Ireland Assembly may extend this further. See Guidance from 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 are probably 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).

The tenants and the tradesperson should remain at least 2 metres apart at all times and follow all the standard hygiene advice (e.g. regular handwashing for at least 20 seconds, and/or use of gloves).

For more information, see government guidance on working safely in other people's homes.

Amendments to right-to-rent checks in England

Right to rent checks can now be made:

  • via video call; or
  • by tenants sending scans or photos of documents via email or a mobile app, rather than sending originals.

You must still make the check and use the Landlord's Checking Service if acceptable documents can't be provided. The government has also updated its right to rent guide.

Energy performance certificates deadline extension

Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) are still required when selling or renting a property. The current requirement is for reasonable efforts to be made to produce an EPC within at least 7 days of the day a property is put on the market.

However, social distancing measures must now be used when assessing a property. Therefore, new guidance will allow a further 21 days to produce it, where reasonable efforts have been made to obtain one. After this, enforcement action may be taken.

Government advice

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

England

Wales

Scotland; and

Northern Ireland.

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