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New legislation for evicting tenants

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New legislation announced on the 28th of August 2020 means that, in most cases, tenants must be given a minimum of six months’ notice before a landlord can look to the courts for repossession of the let property.

The context of the new legislation

In the press release announcing the new legislation, the government explains that it continues to look for ways of helping tenants during a difficult period that has seen lockdown, social distancing, jobs furloughed, and unemployment rising.

During the height of the lockdown, the government introduced a stay on all eviction proceedings against tenants until at least the 20th of September 2020 – effectively granting a six-month stay of proceedings.

As that date approached, the government has therefore introduced new legislation designed to extend a certain period of grace by requiring any landlord to give at least six months’ notice to quit. The force of the new legislation is in effect until the end of March 2021 – when the situation will be reviewed once again.

Exceptions to the six-month rule

Recognising that landlords will face some situations were eviction of troublesome tenants is more pressing, the new legislation lifts the six-month rule is the following cases:

Anti-social behaviour

  • anti-social behaviour on the part of the tenants – in its advice to landlords on dealing with tenants’ anti-social behaviour, the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) identifies the problem as one of the most significant causes of stress and a leading reason for evictions;
  • the legislation introduced by the government on the 28th of August requires landlords to give tenants four weeks’ notice if the reason for repossession is anti-social behaviour;

Domestic abuse

  • if a landlord is seeking repossession because one of the tenants is guilty of domestic abuse, the required period of notice is between two and four weeks, depending on the severity of the abuse;
  • landlords’ representatives had already expressed concern that the six-month stay of repossession proceedings during the pandemic put domestic abuse victims at risk, argued an article in Property Reporter on the 17th of June;

False statement

  • if the tenant acquired the tenancy through making a false statement or statements to the landlord, the latter may apply to the courts for repossession after giving between two and four weeks’ notice;
  • repossession on these grounds is made in accordance with Schedule 2 of the Housing Act 1985, explains a notice published by the housing charity Shelter;

Rent arrears

  • although rent arrears of less than six months require the landlord to give a minimum of six months’ notice if the accumulated arrears are longer than six months, the new legislation allows the landlord to provide just four weeks’ notice;
  • when a tenant is in rent arrears, explains Citizens’ Advice, the landlord may apply to the courts for a repossession order under Section 8 (the so-called “no-fault” eviction) or Section 21 – in either case, landlords are now required to give tenants four weeks’ notice if they are six months or more in rent arrears;

Right to Rent

  • if a landlord discovers that tenants are in breach of so-called Right to Rent legislation, the period of notice for repossession is three months;
  • the Right to Rent scheme puts an onus on landlords to check and confirm that any tenant has an immigration status giving them the legal right to rent and occupy housing in the UK.

Reaction to the new legislation

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, landlords canvassed by the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) welcomed the lifting of the ban on repossession proceedings that had been in place during lockdown, reported Property Wire on the 1st of September.                                               

Even so, the NRLA said it would be looking for a “cast-iron guarantee” that the courts would indeed resume repossession hearings with effect from the 20th of September. The best way of sustaining tenancies and providing the protection needed by both tenants and landlords, argued the NRLA, would be for the government to introduce a financial package of hardship loans for tenants falling into Covid-related rent arrears.

A somewhat different slant on the subject was adopted by Landlord Today in an article on the 3rd of September. This suggested that there may be potential legal issues arising from the many different periods of notice required by landlords under this new legislation.

Exceptions to an across the board six-month period of notice of repossession proceedings, for example, include periods ranging from two weeks to four weeks, to three months. The article suggested that so many differing periods of notice not only sowed confusion among the landlords expected to follow the new legislation but might also raise legal issues and challenges of their own.