Law guide: Property

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Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Contents

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 differs slightly in Scotland, when compared to the rest of the UK (see below).

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 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland cannot use their right of re-entry or claim forfeiture for non-payment of rent until 31 December (extended from 30 September 2020). This also applies to trying to enforce current court claims.

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' rent is owed to them. Until 28 September 2020, this was 189 days or more of unpaid rent. This increased to 276 days' unpaid rent for the period 29 September to 24 December 2020. It will increase again from 25 December, when 366 days' rent must be owed. This will remain in force until 31 December 2020 (extended from September 2020).

The government has published a 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 who've 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 March 2021 (extended from 30 September 2020). This may be extended again 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).

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. These 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.

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).

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

You may also need to send other documents with your reactivation notice:

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 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).

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

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 ground 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, 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). It 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 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 during the visit. However, if a distance of 2 metres is not possible then 1 metre will do if the tenants and the tradesperson take additional protective actions, such as wearing face coverings and using hand sanitiser.

They should 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. In particular, tradespeople should:

  • before their visit, contact you/the tenants remotely to discuss the project or task you need doing and how social distancing will be maintained;
  • arrange for internal doors through which they will have to pass, to be left open to avoid contact with door handles where possible;
  • ask you/the tenants to minimise the number of people that will be in the area or pass through the area where they will need to do the work;
  • keep the number of people working in the home at the same time to the minimum that's required to do the job;
  • have the same people carry out the job where it will take multiple days to complete; and
  • ask that good ventilation is maintained in the area where they will have to work by keeping doors and windows open.

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.

Government advice

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

England

Wales

Scotland; and

Northern Ireland.

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.

Construction site operating procedures

While the construction industry has been allowed to continue operating during the pandemic, the UK government has published information for the construction industry. It expects the industry to comply with the 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 Travel 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

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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