February 2021: A further update on regaining possession
Almost 12 months ago, Housing Minister Robert Jenrick announced a ban on evictions, pledging "no tenant should lose their home due to the pandemic". After several extensions to the end of this temporary policy, the eviction ban was due to come to an end on the 21st February; however, over the Valentine’s weekend he announced yet another delay – this time to the end of March.
The latest extension was anticipated, but it does come as a further blow to those landlords who have been unable to regain possession of their rental property for almost a year.
However, the courts did re-open last September, after having been closed for six months, meaning that hearings do occur, and that bailiffs have been able to undertake evictions in certain 'exceptional' circumstances.
These exceptional circumstances include:
- Where the tenant has displayed severe anti-social behaviour
- If it transpires they made a false statement in their original application
- Where the 'Right to Rent' rules have been breached
- Where there are instances of domestic abuse
- Where there are more than six months of rental arrears
For those tenancies where there are less than six months' arrears; or where there are no arrears, but the tenant has refused to leave the property, then enforcement action should now restart at the end of March.
This latest development comes after the announcement last month that landlords who have Rent and Legal Protection cover from haart could see missed rental payments covered for up to 15 months – news which has been warmly received by our landlords.
Additionally, our Property Management Teams have been proactively contacting tenants who have fallen into arrears and have agreed to re-payment plans. Therefore, whilst we appreciate some landlords still have an issue with unpaid rent and are waiting to regain possession, thankfully the situation is being managed carefully for the majority of our landlords.
When to serve an Eviction Notice
Meanwhile, what about landlords who are yet to serve notice; for example, those whose circumstances have changed. The question is whether to issue a notice now, or to wait.
That’s because provided the fixed term tenancy has either ended or is due to end within the following two months, the notice must provide the tenant with a full six months' notice.
However, that temporary six months' notice rule is also due to end on 31st March, when it should revert back to two months.
For example: If a landlord serves a Section 21 Notice to a tenant on the 18th February, then they should expect the tenant to return the property on or before 18th August.
However, if a landlord waits until 1st April, then as the rules currently stand, the tenancy would expire on 1st June.
This presents a delicate balance for landlords. On the one hand, the strange scenario is that a landlord who waits could get their property returned sooner than one who issues the notice today.
However, the ever-changing rules over the last year mean that landlords could expect that the 31st March date could very well be extended, and our advice is that landlords should probably not delay serving an eviction notice.
Staying within the Law
Whilst some of the measures brought in by the government feel weighed towards tenants, we would urge landlords to remain within the law.
The risks of breaching the rules and undertaking an illegal eviction are too high. We always recommend speaking to tenants about their options. Tenants who default on the rent and remain in the property longer than they are legally entitled to will struggle to move into another privately rented home in future, and the debt could stay with them for years.
If a tenant cannot pay their rent and has been served with an Eviction Notice, we will talk to them about their options. If they serve notice on their own terms they can leave before the problem spirals out of control. Provided the tenancy has moved onto a periodic arrangement the tenant only needs to give one months' notice. So ending their tenancy before they are taken to court will limit their liability and help them move on more quickly.
We hope this explains the current position on evictions, and how we're doing everything we can to help you navigate these new rules. If you have any questions or concerns about evictions, please speak to your local haart branch.
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