Like the entire UK population, 2020 has brought mixed fortunes for tenants and landlords across the country.
While some tenants have continued to work or been furloughed, others have seen their income dramatically reduce and are struggling to pay the rent.
Similarly, for some landlords it’s been business as usual while others have felt the impact of reduced rental income. And for the 9% of landlords who are also tenants, they’ve had to deal with both sides of the coronavirus challenge.
Property legislation has been moving at pace during the pandemic with the aim of balancing tenant security and reassuring landlords.
Here we explain the current state of play regarding Section 21 and how it could affect you as either a tenant or a landlord.
Understanding the latest legislation
Usually, landlords issuing a Section 21 notice must give tenants at least two months’ notice to leave a property. If tenants don’t leave the property within this time frame, landlords can then apply for a possession order through the court system.
The length of time covered by notice periods has changed throughout the pandemic and now stands at six months. In England, the number of months depends on when the notice was given:
In Wales, the notice period is six months if notice was received on or after July 24th 2020.
These rules apply to both private renters and council/housing association tenants and have been introduced to tackle the challenges created by the coronavirus crisis. In effect, it means that no tenant can have been legally evicted for six months during the height of the pandemic.
Secretary of State for Housing, Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, said: “These changes will support landlords to progress the priority cases while keeping the public safe over winter. We will keep these measures under review and decisions will continue to be guided by the latest public health advice.”
The notice period extension, which currently lasts until March 2021, forms part of what the government calls “an unprecedented package of support measures” for tenants. This also includes a pause on evictions until September 20th 2020.
The evictions ban means that before this date:
Bailiffs can’t evict you and landlords can’t get an eviction order through the courts.
If your landlord has already applied to the court, your case will stay on hold.
Your landlord can still give you notice but they can't evict you.
Additionally, the government has advised bailiffs not to enforce evictions in areas with local lockdown restrictions, or over the Christmas season other than in “the most serious circumstances” in what’s been described as a “winter truce”.
What will happen when courts resume?
Courts are due to start dealing with Section 21 cases on September 20th. There will of course be a backlog and the process will, as it does in more typical circumstances, take time.
Priority will therefore be given to what the government calls “the most egregious cases”, those covered by Section 8 legislation where a landlord has to give a reason for starting eviction proceedings. These include anti-social behaviour, fraud and domestic abuse, ensuring landlords can progress the most serious cases.
Notice periods for these Section 8 cases have also been amended so landlords will be able to tackle serious rent arrears cases and issues involving domestic violence or anti-social behaviour more quickly:
anti-social behaviour (now 4 weeks’ notice)
domestic abuse (now 2 to 4 weeks’ notice)
false statement (now 2 to 4 weeks’ notice)
over 6 months’ accumulated rent arrears (now 4 weeks’ notice)
breach of immigration rules ‘Right to Rent’ (now 3 months’ notice)
Additionally, new court rules have been agreed which come into effect on September 20th. These mean landlords will need to set out in their claim any relevant information about a tenant’s circumstances, including any effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. Where this information is not provided, judges will have the ability to adjourn proceedings so it’s important to get your paperwork in order.
Tenants: What to do if you’re struggling to pay rent
Your tenancy rights and responsibilities remain the same throughout the pandemic. If you’re able to pay rent, you should pay it on time as usual.
It also remains illegal to evict a tenant without following due process. Your landlord can’t pressure you to leave by harassing you, changing the locks or forcing you out without notice or a court order.
If you’re struggling to pay your rent, follow this advice to have the best chance of staying in your property:
Communicate with your landlord regularly and seek to arrange a repayment plan to pay off arrears where possible
Ensure you understand the latest legislation so you don’t get caught out
Continue to maintain the property and fulfil all obligations listed in your tenancy agreement
Keep evidence such as receipts for rent paid or any communications with your landlord, in case of dispute.
If you receive Housing Benefit or Universal Credit, enquire with your local council about getting a discretionary housing payment
Landlords: What to do to if your tenant falls into arrears
Despite the revisions to legislation, your statutory and contractual obligations remain the same. As a landlord, you must still carry out all necessary checks, maintain the property to an acceptable standard and issue the relevant period of notice.
The extended notice periods run the risk of impacting the speed at which you can regain possession of your property. This makes it even more important to minimise the level of rent arrears.
If your tenant is falling behind, these tips can help to reach a mutually beneficial solution:
Keep the lines of communication open between you and your tenant, understanding their situation will make an agreement easier to reach
Suggest and formally agree a repayment plan which is manageable and benefits both parties
Stay up-to-date with changes to legislation which are currently being revised frequently
Seek advice from professionals such as the experts at MakeUrMove who can explain what financial assistance you could be entitled to
Apply for direct rent payments if your tenant receives Universal Credit. These cover both regular rental payments and arrears
The key here is communication. The situation isn’t straightforward for tenants or landlords. Working together to reach an agreement that keeps reliable tenants in their property and gives landlords the income they need is the best approach to adopt.
Stay informed about important changes to tenant legislation on the MakeUrMove blog