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

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

Temporary coronavirus restrictions ended on 25 March 2022.

These restrictions prevented landlords of commercial properties from using their right of re-entry or claiming forfeiture for non-payment of rent and enforcing current court claims. Landlords in England and Wales also could not use commercial rent arrears recovery or CRAR (a statutory procedure that allows landlords 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 (most recently, 554 days since 24 June 2021).

Landlords now have a right to re-entry or to claim forfeiture for unpaid rent, after the period of time set in the lease (normally 14 or 21 days), though this won't apply to protected rent debts incurred when a business was adversely affected by coronavirus - see Arbitration (England, Wales and possibly Northern Ireland), below.

The number of days to start CRAR has now dropped to the pre-pandemic level of 7 days' rent arrears.

Businesses in England and Wales are now required to rely on the code of practice and an arbitration process (created by the Commercial Rent (Coronavirus) Act 2022) to resolve ongoing rent arrears disputes (see below).

Northern Ireland has the power to make legislation creating an arbitration process, but has yet to do so. Businesses there must now rely on the code of practice to resolve any rent arrears which may have built up during the pandemic and use available mediation and dispute resolution options to resolve any disputes.

Scotland

Landlords have a right to claim irritancy for non-payment of rent. Until 30 March 2022, any notice served must have given a tenant 14 weeks' (not 14 days') notice.

Since then, the notice period has reverted to the pre-pandemic requirement of 14 days'. However, where a notice has already been served before 30 March, a landlord can't shorten the 14-week notice period by serving new notice on the tenant on or after 30 March if:

  • the (first) notice is yet to expire; and
  • the new notice will contain the same ground or grounds of eviction used in the first notice.

Code of practice

The UK government has issued a code of practice for dealing with commercial debts built up over the pandemic.

It applies throughout the UK to rent debts (including service charges and insurance) accrued since March 2020 due to forced closures or restrictions.

The key aims of the code are to:

  • Prevent viable tenant businesses from closing – but not at the expense of the landlord's solvency or by having to take on more debt or restructure.
  • Provide guidance on how the parties should approach negotiations, with the intention that they should, if possible, resolve rent disputes before new arbitration legislation is in force (see below) – this requires both parties to be transparent and to act reasonably and responsibly.
  • Help the parties consider how affordable any debt relief will be – they should provide documents evidencing it. There's a non-exhaustive list of factors to consider when assessing how much the tenant can afford to pay.
  • Require the parties to consider whether they have the means and ability to meet their obligations and to continue trading despite the current (or any future) rent debts.

The code states that tenants should meet their obligations under the lease in full and without delay, if they can afford it. Any agreements made before the code should continue to be honoured.

Arbitration (England, Wales and possibly Northern Ireland)

On 24 March 2022, the Commercial Rent (Coronavirus) Act 2022 became law. It provides for a legally binding arbitration process in England and Wales and is the only way for commercial landlords and tenants to resolve covid-related rent debts if they aren't able to reach an agreement using the code of practice. Northern Ireland has the power to make similar legislation.

Landlords and tenants have 6 months from 24 March 2022 (24 September 2022) to start the arbitration process using a government-approved arbitrator.

The arbitration only applies to protected rent debts incurred when a business was adversely affected by coronavirus.

Rent debts include the rent charged to use the commercial property, certain service charges (that include insurance costs), interest on the unpaid debt and any VAT charged on all of them.

A business was adversely affected by coronavirus if all or part of it was required to close due to coronavirus regulations in force at the time. This period differs for businesses in England and Wales:

  • In England - from 2pm on 21 March 2020 to 11.55 pm on 18 July 2021.
  • In Wales - from 2pm on 21 March 2020 to 6am on 7 August 2021.

Where the regulations required all or parts of the business to be closed at particular times each day, it counts as a closure requirement. However, if a business was required to close and the regulations still allowed it to do certain activities, those activities will be disregarded.

The arbitration process is divided into 3 stages:

  • Stage 1: the pre-arbitration stage.
  • Stage 2: the arbitrator's assessment of whether the dispute is eligible for arbitration.
  • Stage 3: the arbitrator's assessment of the relief from payment of a protected rent debt.

The pre-arbitration stage

  • A written notice given by the applicant, who can be either the landlord or tenant, that they intend to refer the dispute to arbitration. The applicant will be responsible for paying the arbitration fee. Note that a party cannot consider arbitration if the tenant is subject to a CVA, IVA or compromise arrangement.
  • The reference must contain the applicant's proposal for resolving the protected rent debt and include any appropriate documentary evidence. It must be verified by a statement of truth. This is the same statement that's used in many court forms, where the person signing it is stating that the contents are true. Note that a person can be prosecuted for contempt of court if they sign a statement of truth but don't honestly believe the contents of the document.
  • The other party can (but is not required to) make a counterproposal (again, supported by documentary evidence and a statement of truth). This must be given within 14 days starting on the day the applicant's proposal is received or longer, if agreed by the parties or the arbitrator considers it is reasonable.
  • Revised proposals can then be given by either party within 28 days starting on the day a formal proposal is received (or longer, if agreed by the parties or the arbitrator considers it is reasonable). The revised proposal must be supported by further evidence and a statement of truth.

The arbitrator's assessment

The arbitrator must then determine whether the dispute is eligible for an award. This involves assessing:

1. If the lease is a business tenancy.

2. If there is a protected rent debt.

3. Whether the parties have already reached an agreement or if a dispute still exists.

4. The appropriate relief/award (if any).

The arbitrator may appoint experts, assessors to assist on technical matters or legal advisors to report to it, including at the hearing (whether or not the parties agree).

The parties can request an oral hearing (which the arbitrator cannot refuse). The hearing must be held within 14 days of the arbitrator receiving the request, though the parties can agree to extend this, or the arbitrator can extend it if it believes it's reasonable to do so.

If there is an oral hearing, the arbitrator must make an award within 14 days of it (the parties can agree to extend this, or the arbitrator can extend). Where there is no oral hearing, the award must be made as soon as reasonably practicable after both parties have put forward a final proposal.

Costs

Though the party referring the dispute to arbitration must initially pay the arbitrator's fees, the general rule is that the arbitrator must also make an award requiring the other party to reimburse half the arbitration fees and, if applicable, half the hearing fees.

For all other costs (such as solicitor fees), the default position is that each party meets its own costs. Arbitrators have the power to depart from this if they consider it appropriate.

The award

  • Will be published by the arbitrator along with their reasons for making it, but any confidential information (information that could significantly harm the legitimate business interests of the party or person to whom the information relates) must be excluded, unless consented too.
  • Can be enforced in the same manner as a judgment or order of the court, but the enforcing party will need to get court permission first.
  • Can be challenged in court once the party challenging it has exhausted the process of having it reviewed under the Arbitration Act.

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 were introduced to allow landlords to resume these claims. These rules remain in place for all claims that were started before 1 December 2021.

For claims started on or after 1 December 2021, the court procedure rules are – mostly – back to the pre-pandemic position.

For example:

  • Cases are scheduled based on when the claim was made, rather than prioritised based on the circumstances.
  • Review hearings (and the preparation needed before attending them) are no longer required.

The one matter that remains from the temporary court rules is that you must still send a Notice of the effect that the coronavirus pandemic has had on the tenants.

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

This is a written notice stating what you know about the effect that the coronavirus pandemic has had on the tenant and any of their dependants (i.e. children or other people in their care). You'll need to provide it in the following situations, even if there are no effects or if you haven't been able to find out.

  • At any possession hearing (i.e. under the section 8 or section 21 procedure) – 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 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.

The notice is required for any claim issued until at least 30 June 2022. You can use our document Possession claim notice: effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the tenant to create the 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, 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 and is set to continue as a pre-possession requirement in the future.

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, temporary measures forced landlords to give tenants extra notice when sending them section 8 notices or section 21 notices. These measures ended in England on 1 October 2021 and on 24 March 2022 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.

Notice periods have now returned to their pre-pandemic levels. See our guide on Recovering possession under section 8 for information on notice periods for each ground.

Previously during the pandemic, notice periods depended on when you served the section 8 notice on the tenant (i.e. gave it to them):

England

  • Between 26 March 2020 and 28 August 2020 (inclusive): 3 months
  • Between 29 August 2020 and 31 May 2021 (inclusive): 6 months (if there were less than 6 months of rent arrears at the time the notice was given) or 4 weeks (if there were at least 6 months' arrears), with some reasons for eviction requiring less.
  • Between 1 June 2021 and 31 July 2021 (inclusive): 4 months (if there were less than 4 months of rent arrears at the time notice was given) or 4 weeks (if there were at least 4 months' arrears), with some reasons for eviction requiring less.
  • Between 1 August 2021 and 30 September 2021 (inclusive): 2 months (if there were less than 4 months of rent arrears at the time notice was given) or 4 weeks (if there were at least 4 months' arrears), with some reasons for eviction requiring less.

Wales:

  • Between 26 March and 23 July 2020 (inclusive): 3 months (whatever the grounds used)
  • Between 24 July and 28 September 2020 (inclusive): 3 months for grounds 7A or 14 (antisocial behaviour) otherwise, 6 months
  • Between 29 September 2020 and 24 March 2022 (inclusive): 6 months except if the grounds used relate to anti-social behaviour or domestic violence – the notice period in those cases returned to the pre-coronavirus position.

Section 21 notices

The usual notice period for section 21 notices is 2 months. Notice periods have now returned to this (as of 1 October 2021 in England and 25 March 2022 in Wales).

Previously in England, you must have given at least 4 months' notice if sending your tenant a section 21 notice between 1 June 2021 and 30 September 2021 (inclusive). It was 6 months' notice between 29 August 2020 and 31 May 2021 (inclusive), and 3 months between 26 March and 28 August 2020 (inclusive).

In Wales, 3 months' notice was required for notices that were given to tenants between 26 March and 23 July 2020. This was then extended to 6 months for notices given to tenants between 24 July 2020 and 24 March 2022 (inclusive).

Scotland

Notice periods have returned to their pre-pandemic lengths for any notice served on or after 30 March 2022. However, if a landlord has already served a notice before then, they can't shorten the notice period by serving another one if:

  • the (first) notice is yet to expire; and
  • the new notice will contain the same ground or grounds of eviction used in the first notice.

Previously:

  • Notices served between 7 April and 2 October 2020 (inclusive) had an extended period of up to 6 months, depending on the ground being used.
  • Notices served between 3 October and 29 March 2022 (inclusive) were still subject to the 6-month notice requirement in most cases, but for some grounds it was shortened. See mygov.scot for more details.

Northern Ireland

The requirement for landlords of private tenancies to give their tenants at least 12 weeks' notice to leave their property ended on 4 May 2022.

However, notice periods have permanently changed as a result of the Private Tenancies Act (Northern Ireland) 2022. See our section Recovering possession in NI 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).

Amendments to right-to-rent checks in England

Temporary changes to right-to-rent checks are in place until 30 September 2022 (extended from 5 April 2022). 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.

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