The coronavirus pandemic continues to exert its effect on the lettings industry. Problems are being experienced by all stakeholders in the sector, but for landlords, some of the most challenging issues relate to evictions.
The Lord Chancellor has requested that bailiffs don’t carry out evictions. As of 17th November, this has become a statutory requirement and will be in place until at least 11th January 2021.
In brief, the legislation states that no person may attend a dwelling house to execute a writ or warrant of possession or restitution or to deliver a notice of eviction.
For landlords, many of whom have seen a substantial drop in their income, this is another blow, but thankfully there are a few exceptions which apply to Assured Shorthold Tenancies which landlords should be aware of. Crucially, these exceptions include substantial rent arrears.
Exemptions are as follows:
(a) Against trespassers relating to a claim under the Civil Procedure Rules 1998
(b) Under section 84A of the Housing Act 1985 relating to anti-social behaviour
c) The case involves substantial rent arrears, and the writ or warrant relates to an order made on Ground 8, 10 or 11 of Schedule 2 to the Housing Act 1988.
The critical question: What are substantial rent arrears?
Substantial rent arrears are defined as 9 months’ unpaid rent – but even that is not as straightforward as it might appear. Arrears arising after 23rd March 2020 cannot be included.
What’s more, to use any of the exemptions – substantial arrears, trespass or anti-social behaviour – the courts must be satisfied that the conditions are met. In other words, landlords will have to apply to the court, rather than simply request a warrant.
If that all goes according to plan and the courts approve an application, there’s another potential hold-up. If the tenants have COVID-19 symptoms or are self-isolating, bailiffs won’t be able to do their job.
The exemptions offer a small crumb of comfort, but landlords’ legitimate interests are still not being protected.