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Evictions: what's been happening during the crisis?

June 24, 2020Categories: Landlords
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Court evictions have more-or-less been on hold since 19th March, when the Government introduced temporary rules that suspended any new eviction action for three months. Now, as that period comes to an end, many courts in England are getting ready to start listing possession hearings again from Monday 29th June.

Just to recap on the new rules: Since 19th March, although landlords have still been able to serve notice on a tenant, the notice period has increased from two to three months. That means landlords currently have to wait three months before they can make an application to a court for a possession order.

What's been going on with the courts?

Although possession claims that were already underway before 19th March were legally technically allowed to continue, the reality is that most have been stuck in the court system. Due to lockdown and social distancing rules, courts have had to reduce the number of applications being heard each day, relying on virtual meetings and video technology where possible. And, given that bailiff applications were suspended, most of the landlords that had valid evictions relating to pre-coronavirus issues have been unable to progress their claims.

What can landlords expect in the coming months? 

It was reported that by the end of June, with the lockdown being eased, courts might be open again for possession hearings. However, on 5th June, the Secretary of State for Housing, Robert Jenrick, announced that the ban on evictions would be extended by a further two months. That means evictions won’t be heard in courts until the end of August, ensuring tenants can’t be evicted over the summer. You can read more on the GOV.UK website

By this time, the eviction system will have been pretty much at a standstill for 5 months. That means there’s going to be a backlog of cases for the courts to deal with, on top of the expected flood of new possession applications. Given that social distancing rules will still have to be observed, it’s going to be a slow process for some time to come.

Courts will aim to hear as many cases as possible each day but, as many will be scheduled to take place via telephone or video conferencing in order to keep solicitors, employees, landlords and tenants safe, this could be time-consuming. Some participants may need to be chased up and others either won’t have good access to this technology or may simply not be familiar with it. On top of those time delays, being physically distanced from the court could result in tenants being more inclined to argue their case.

Unfortunately, all this means that if your tenant refuses to leave voluntarily, even an accelerated claim could be severely delayed.

3 key steps to take if you need to evict a tenant

  1. Find out exactly what position your tenant is in and talk to them to try to find a solution. The coronavirus crisis will have affected many tenants’ incomes and some will have run into difficulty paying their rent. A Landlord Action survey of more than 500 landlords in April found that, just one month into lockdown, 74% had already been contacted by tenants saying they would struggle to pay
     
  2. If you’re financially able to offer your tenant a reduced rent for a period of time, or even a payment break while they get back on their feet, it’s worth considering, but do make sure you have a payment plan in place from the start. Everyone needs to play their part in helping where possible in these unprecedented times. Bear in mind that the economy has taken a hit and it might be better to have some rent coming in and/or a very grateful tenant, rather than no rent, a potentially expensive court case on your hands and a major delay to eviction
     
  3. If you can’t agree some kind of payment plan or the issue is something other than rent, we’d suggest mediation is certainly the most sensible route to explore. With the anticipated delays, evicting them via the courts really should be a last resort

Each case will be slightly different, but our lettings employees are experienced in dealing with tenant issues so please do discuss any problems with your local Your Move branch and we’ll give you our best advice.

In Scotland

Emergency legislation passed by the Scottish Government has temporarily extended the amount of notice a landlord must give before beginning the process of ending a tenancy. In most cases, they must now give their tenants 6 months’ notice, unless the tenancy is being terminated for certain reasons, including: antisocial and criminal behaviour and where the tenant has abandoned the property.

The new law also temporarily makes all grounds for eviction in the PRS discretionary, so it is up to the Tribunal to decide, in all cases, whether it’s reasonable to issue an eviction order.

More information can be found on the mygov.scot website.