What you need to know: Possessions update for England
The Government has made a series of welcome announcements this week around possession in the private rented sector.
The updates are wide ranging and generally positive for landlords, reflecting the roadmap that the NRLA had suggested as a measured and reasonable way to return to the norm without overstretching the courts.
These changes will be staggered, with the first coming on 1 June and a further change to rent arrears notices coming on 1 August.
After that, all notice periods are set to return to their pre-Covid levels from 1 October this year.
From 1 June, the minimum notice required for possession will reduce to four months in most cases, including any Section 21 notices that are served and most Section 8 notices. These changes are not backdated, so notices served up to and including 31 May will need to give a minimum of six months’ notice.
There are some exceptions to this four months’ notice period.
The shorter notices that the NRLA secured last year for landlords will still be available after 1 June. These are available where:
- The Section 8 notice contains an anti-social behaviour ground. In these cases the notice will be either one month (ground 7a) or immediately after service (ground 14). You should seek legal advice before including either of these grounds however.
- The rent arrears grounds (8,10, and 11) are included on the Section 8 notice, no other ground is included, and the rent arrears are considered to be serious. In these cases four weeks’ notice will be required. From 1 June, this shorter notice will be available if the tenant is in four months of arrears instead of six.
- The fraudulent statement ground (17) is included and no other other grounds are included. In this case only two weeks’ notice is required.
In addition to these existing exceptions, a number of other grounds are being reduced in length over the next few months:
- From 1 June, ground 7 will revert to a two month notice and ground 7b will require a two week notice where no other grounds are included.
- From 1 August, the rent arrears grounds will only require two months notice, even if the arrears are less than four months.
All of this means landlords are not advised to serve notice in the next few weeks unless their tenants are currently in six months or more of arrears or serious anti-social behaviour is occurring.
Instead, landlords should consider making another attempt to sustain the tenancy in the next few weeks.
Working with the tenant or via a mediation service to find a suitable payment plan to reduce any rent arrears can avoid court or, at worst, show you have made every effort to avoid it.
NRLA members can access a free mediation service provided by TDS if they do want to go down this route.
New prescribed form
To go along with the new notice periods, new prescribed forms for Section 21 and 8 are being introduced from 1 June. These documents will be available on the gov.uk website and NRLA members can access completion notes to help fill these documents out once they do appear.
The new forms include the updated notice periods. The new Section 8 notice also includes reference to the breathing space legislation that came into force on May 4 of this year.
As these are prescribed forms, landlords are legally required to use the most up-to-date version for the day on which the notice counts as served on the tenant.
As most notices count as served a couple of working days after being posted, landlords should avoid serving any notices in the days leading up to 1 June. Otherwise their notice may be invalid.
Reactivating the bailiffs
In addition to the change in notices, the Government has also announced that lockdown restrictions will end for bailiffs and they can begin operating again from 1 June 2021.
Landlords should be aware that there is likely to be a significant backlog after they do restart.
Due to the various national and local lockdowns in place since March last year, only 85 properties have been repossessed using a county court bailiff in England and Wales since the pandemic began. In comparison there were 20,000 of these appointments in 2019 across the social and private rented sectors.
Reactivating expired warrants
For the landlords who started possession proceedings before the pandemic, there was some other welcome news this week.
Following NRLA lobbying, the Government has announced that any warrants of possession that have expired or are set to expire between March 17 2020 and August 31 2021 can be extended for free.
Normally this would cost between £100 and £255.
Previously this was only available to cases where a warrant had been issued on or after March 17 last year.
Warrants of possession only last for a year after being issued, so this change means the landlords who had bailiff appointments cancelled at the start of the pandemic will no longer have to pay an additional fee to apply again.
To apply for this free extension, landlords must send an N244 form to their court between 1 June-31 August so a district judge can consider their case. Further details are available on this fee waiver are available here.
Right to Rent
Changes to right to rent checks, introduced in response to the Covid-19 pandemic will now remain in place until June 21. Emergency measures, introduced in March last year to minimise face-to-face contact were due to end on Sunday – but the Government has announced it will be extending the time period to give landlords more time to adjust.