Leases in the time of Coronavirus: the Coronavirus Act 2020 and Residential Tenancies


Our team: Kirsty Smith


The Coronavirus Act 2020 (“the Act”) received Royal Assent on 25 March 2020, meaning that it is now in force. The Act will have implications on a landlord’s ability to obtain possession of residential property.

We summarise here the Act’s implications for residential tenancies.

Notice Periods and Possession Proceedings

The Act extends the notice period requirements before commencing residential possession proceedings for various types of residential tenancy. In summary:

  1. a notice under Section 21 Housing Act 1988 (which deals with the recovery of possession on expiry or termination of an assured shorthold tenancy) will be extended from 2 months to 3 months;
  2. a notice under Section 8 of the Housing Act 1988 (which deals with recovery of possession on various ‘fault’ grounds during the term of an assured or assured shorthold tenancy), will be extended from 2 months to 3 months;
  3. notices to quit for Regulated or Rent Act tenancies (which are private tenancies which began before 1989) are also to have a 3 month notice period; and
  4. a Section 83 Housing Act 1985 notice (which deals with possession against secure local authority tenants) will also be extended to require three months’ notice.

The extension on notice periods will last for “the relevant period” under the legislation. The relevant period for the purpose of residential tenancies is the period beginning with the day on which the Act was passed (25 March 2020) and ending on 30 September 2020.

Ongoing Possession Claims

The Act is clear that it only applies to notices served since the legislation came into force. This means that the Act does not concern notices served before the coming into force of the legislation, or possession proceedings which have already been issued.

However, in relation to notices which have already been served and proceedings which have already been issued, there are likely to be significant delays proceeding with those possession claims through the courts. The most recent guidance from the Judiciary is that no hearings which require people to attend in person are now to take place in the County Court until further notice, unless there is a genuine urgency, and all cases currently being heard will be adjourned and conducted remotely if possible. It is also expected that there will be significant delays enforcing orders via the appointment of bailiffs.

Other Remedies?

The amendments apply to the notice period requirements for commencing residential possession claims only. Thus, if there are other remedies available to you in respect of a tenant’s breach of covenant, those remedies are not affected by the Act.

If, for example, your tenant has failed to pay rent, then landlords can still rely on other remedies for non payment of rent, such as issuing court proceedings to recover the arrears as a debt (albeit any debt claim is likely to be frustrated by the same Court delays), serving a statutory demand on the tenant or issuing a winding up petition, pursuing a guarantor or drawing down on a rent deposit.

Conclusion

The Act is different from what was suggested in the original announcement in that, rather than prohibiting possession entirely, it has been watered down to extend notice periods to three months instead. There is however a power for the Government to extend that to 6 months as a contingency.

If obtaining possession of your property is a priority such that there are no other available remedies which would suffice, then landlords can still serve notice, complying with the new extended notice periods, and claim possession at the end of that period. However, even though there is no absolute restriction on the issue of possession proceedings, given the current situation with Court hearings, it is highly unlikely that any claim for possession will be expedited.

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