Towards the end of last year, the Government in England announced it was suspending bailiff activity between 11th December and 11th January. This was to make sure no tenant was made homeless over the Christmas period and the other nations of the UK followed suit.
Now, that period has been extended to ensure tenants are protected from eviction during the national lockdown period:
- In England, until 31st March
- In Wales, until 31st March, subject to a periodic three-week review
- In Scotland, until 31st March for all Level 3 and 4 areas – although Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed that “if necessary, the regulations can be extended further after that date.”
That means, as it stands at the moment, bailiffs are not allowed to enforce possession orders, including the serving of any 14-day notices – unless the circumstances are serious.
If your tenant has seriously breached their tenancy agreement or broken the law in another way, they can still be evicted. Examples include anti-social or criminal behaviour, or domestic violence. In England, you can also start eviction proceedings if arrears are greater than six months’ rent. In Wales, tenants can apply for loans to pay the rent to the landlord if they are struggling and in Scotland both tenants and landlords can apply for loans.
It’s important to note that each country has different rules on eviction and these can change quite fast, so do contact your local Your Move branch to make sure you know the latest rules before taking any action.
You can serve your tenant with a notice of eviction at any time, as long as you have legal grounds. Under the current rules, landlords across the UK must give six months’ notice for most evictions, which, in England, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) says is “an important protection to all tenants”, giving them a reasonable amount of time to find alternative accommodation.
In England and Wales, if the tenant doesn’t leave, you can take them to court - the system is currently open for possession hearings and possession orders are being granted. However, bear in mind there’s still a backlog of cases and social distancing restrictions mean fewer cases than normal are being heard each day, so the whole process is taking longer than usual. The current process is:
- Landlords are given 21 days’ notice of a ‘review date’, when they’ve got to be available for a telephone meeting with their tenant (and/or their representatives) to see if they can reach an out-of-court settlement.
- 14 days before the review date, the landlord must provide their evidence to the court.
- Based on the evidence and the review, the court then decides whether to go ahead with a hearing.
Most cases are likely to take six months or more to progress through the courts, although the most serious cases are being prioritised.
In Scotland, evictions orders must be granted by the First-tier Tribunal and the temporary coronavirus legislation has made all grounds for eviction in the PRS discretionary. That means, even if you have a legally valid ground, the Tribunal must decide whether it’s reasonable to issue an eviction order, taking into account all factors relating to the impact of coronavirus on both the landlord and tenant.
Unfortunately, if the tenant still refuses to leave, the appointment of a bailiff has to be the next step and, due to current restrictions, this may lead to further delays. It’s important to understand that, regardless of whether you have been granted a possession order, you cannot remove your tenant yourself – only a bailiff can legally do that.
Given that it could take a year or more to remove a tenant, on legal grounds, it’s worth considering coming to an out-of-court agreement and only set the formal eviction wheels in motion if that’s absolutely necessary. Not only can eviction be a long and expensive process, but if you don’t get the paperwork right, a court could declare the eviction invalid, meaning you have to start all over again.
If we manage your property, you can rest assured that an experienced member of the team will be communicating and can help negotiate with your tenant. If there’s a problem and eviction action becomes necessary, we’ll handle the whole process on your behalf but we’d like to emphasise that evictions are still relatively rare. However, as the pandemic continues to impact many tenants’ incomes and lives, it’s important that you’re prepared for how to proceed if things start to go wrong.
Given the discussions and consultations that have taken place over the last few years in relation to abolishing Section 21 notices in England and Wales, it’s no surprise that we’ve seen the rules shift in favour of tenants. In Scotland, no-fault evictions have been illegal since December 2017 (other than in certain specified circumstances), so we’re waiting to see which of the ‘temporary’ COVID-19 measures currently in place in the rest of the UK will remain once the pandemic is over.
If you’d like any advice, you can contact your local Your Move branch at any time – our team is always here to help. For a summary of the rule changes through 2020, see our blog from mid-November and you can read the government’s possession action guidance for England and Wales on the GOV.UK website. For landlords in Scotland, full guidance is available on the gov.scot site and at mygov.scot.
Landlords, there is no need to worry about unpaid rent.