With England in a four-week national lockdown, in place until 2 December 2020, landlords face more uncertainty over possession proceedings.
For residential landlords, the new four-week national lockdown may mean that possession proceedings over the coming months will be further protracted and could extend well into the New Year.
How will lockdown affect possession claims?
The stay of possession proceedings which started on 27 March this year came to an end on 20 September. For claims that had already been issued before 3 August, landlords will need to reactivate their claim and provide the courts with information about the landlord’s knowledge of the impact of the pandemic on their tenant.
On 1 November, the Lord Chief Justice and Senior President of Tribunals stated that courts will remain open during the second lockdown in England. At an annual HMCTS event two days later, it was discussed that possession claims will proceed and that judges may give directions to take into account the second lockdown rather than suspending claims.
Although the courts are remaining open, there are significant delays in cases being heard. This is due to the backlog of stayed cases and volume of new claims which have been issued. The courts are prioritising listing of cases involving anti-social behaviour, crime, illegal occupiers, domestic violence and serious rent arrears.
I have a possession order – can this be enforced?
Before lockdown, for areas of the country in the highest tiers for coronavirus restrictions, bailiffs were prevented from enforcing possession orders. In reaction to the new national lockdown, this has been extended across England.
On 5 November, it was announced that no bailiff enforcement action will take place whilst England is in this period of lockdown restrictions. In light of a ‘winter truce’ freezing bailiff enforcement action over the Christmas period between 11 December this year and 11 January 2021, it is unlikely that evictions will now be enforced until after 11 January next year at the earliest.
There are limited exceptions permitting enforcement, including cases of fraud, anti-social behaviour, crime or where a property is unoccupied following the tenant’s death. The government is considering a further exception for cases of extreme rent arrears (where those arrears accrued before Covid-19).
Over the coming months the operation of possession cases will not return to ‘normal’, but hopefully the position will improve in the New Year. It is clear however, that landlords currently engaged in possession proceedings will need to ensure compliance with new notices and procedures to avoid claims falling short of technical requirements as new court measures come into effect.
For commercial landlords the restrictions on actions available where a tenant is not paying rent were extended to 31 December – find out more here.