Just before lockdown began, the Government announced new, temporary rules around evictions. From 19th March, while landlords were still able to serve notice on a tenant, an application for a possession order could not be made to court for three months - an increase from the previous two-month notice period - suspending any new eviction action until towards the end of June.
In terms of the courts themselves, although possession claims that were already underway were legally technically allowed to continue, in reality their progress has been impacted by 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. And with bailiff applications suspended, landlords with valid evictions relating to pre-coronavirus issues have been left with their claims simply stuck and unable to progress.
Now, even though lockdown restrictions are lifting in England and courts were expected to open at the end of June to begin listing possession hearings again, the Secretary of State for Housing, Robert Jenrick, announced on 5th June that the eviction ban would be extended by a further two months. That means eviction hearings will not be heard in courts until the end of August, ensuring no tenants will be evicted over the summer. You can read more on the GOV.UK website.
What can landlords expect from the court system?
Given that there is expected to be a rush of new possession applications on top of the backlog, and social distancing rules will still have to be observed, delays to the eviction process are likely. While courts will be aiming to hear as many cases as possible each day via telephone or video conferencing in order to keep solicitors, employees, landlords and tenants safe, this could be time-consuming. Participants may need to be chased up and some may not have good access to this technology or simply not be familiar with it. In addition, being physically distanced from the court may result in tenants being more inclined to argue their case.
All this means that if your tenant refuses to leave voluntarily, even an accelerated claim could be delayed.
What’s the best course of action if you need to evict a tenant?
However, if you are self-managing, it’s important to find out exactly what position your tenant is in and try to negotiate a solution to the issue. The coronavirus crisis will have impacted some 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.
In these unprecedented times, everyone needs to play their part in helping where possible so, if you are in a financial position to be 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. However, it is important to agree a payment plan for any arrears, in advance, in writing.
Bear in mind the economy has taken a hit it may be wiser to have some rent coming in and/or a very grateful tenant, rather than no rent coming in, a potentially expensive court case on your hands and a major delay to gaining possession to be able to re-let.
Each case will be slightly different so, whether we manage your property for you or you self-manage, please do discuss any rent problems with your local Reeds Rains branch and we’ll give you our best advice. If we handle the rent collection for you, we will already be on top of the situation with your tenant.
If it’s not possible to agree some kind of payment plan or the issue is something other than rent and you need to evict your tenant, again, communication is key. Our lettings employees are experienced in dealing with tenant issues.