Updated 7 April 2020:
We have updated our guidance with the new rules set out by Government. See the updates below in green.
Published 26 March 2020:
Covid-19: A guide for residential tenants
The ongoing Covid-19 crisis is a difficult and trying time for the whole nation. This is particularly the case for tenants who have so far been offered little in the way of support by the Government. Many renters will be under great stress and pressure and we wish to provide a basic outline of the protection currently in place and the additional protection which the Government is looking to bring in.
In a press release by the Government on 18 March it was announced they were working on emergency legislation to offer protection to both landlords and tenants who were faced with financial difficulty during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. This article incorporates our interpretation of the emergency legislation being assessed through Parliament at present and we will try to update you as soon as new information comes to light.
What if I can’t pay my rent during the crisis?
Your first step should be to speak to your landlord as soon as possible and raise your concerns with them. Landlords with mortgaged property are likely to receive a mortgage holiday so they may be willing to let you pay a reduced rent for the time being, or delay your rent until a later date.
If you can come to an agreement with your landlord then you should keep a record of the agreement. For verbal agreements, follow up the agreement by sending a clear and simple email, letter or text message setting out the amount you are paying and when you will be paying it. You should ask your landlord to reply confirming that they have agreed to this.
Are my rent payments frozen?
At present, there is no freeze on rental payments. If you cannot come to an arrangement with your landlord then your rent will remain the same. Not paying your rent will leave you open to eviction and/or a court order requiring you to pay any rental arrears. Please see more on this below.
My landlord has told me he wants me out of my home. Should I leave?
No; you are under no obligation to leave the property simply because your landlord has asked you to.
Your landlord must follow a specific process in order to evict you. If they do not follow this process then they will be committing a criminal offence. The process will vary depending on the type of tenancy you have. If you have an assured shorthold tenancy (which is the most common form of tenancy) then the process is as follows:-
- Your Landlord must serve you with a notice to quit. Under new legislation which the Government is planning to implement, this must give you a notice period of at least 3 months.
- At the end of this notice period, you still do not need to leave your home. However, if you do not leave, your landlord can now apply to the Court for a possession order. You will be sent notice of this by the Court and will be given the opportunity to attend a hearing setting out any defence.
- If the Court grants an order giving possession of the property to your landlord, the Court will then write to you ordering you to leave the property by a certain date. If you do not do so it is likely that your landlord will ask the court to instruct a bailiff to remove you from the property.
The average eviction process can take between 6-7 months and this may be longer during the Covid-19 crisis.
Does my landlord have to have a reason for evicting me? When can they serve a notice?
Your landlord can serve a ‘notice to quit’ on you at any time. If your landlord serves a notice on you before 30 September 2020 then this must give you at least 3 months’ notice.
There are 2 types of notice that your landlord may serve:-
‘Section 21 notice‘ – This is known as a ‘no-fault’ eviction. This type of notice does not require your landlord to give you any reason as to why they wish to end your tenancy. The notice period must be at least 3 months. If you have a fixed term tenancy then your notice period must end on the last day of that term.
If you have a periodic tenancy then your notice period must end on the last day of the tenancy period. For example, if your rent is paid monthly then this may be the last day of the month.
‘Section 8 notice’ – This is known as a ‘fault’ eviction. Your landlord must prove one of the various specified grounds before they can evict you. You must still be given at least 3 months’ notice.
The most common ground relied upon by landlords is significant rental arrears. If this is the case then the Court must order possession of the property to your landlord.
Significant arrears means you have failed to pay more than 2 months’ rent (if paying monthly) or 8 weeks’ rent (if paying weekly).
But what about the coronavirus pandemic?
As the Government’s guidance stands at present, even if you have accumulated significant rental arrears during the pandemic your landlord will still be able to serve this notice.
If you are in rent arrears of less than 2 months or 8 weeks, then your landlord may still be able to obtain a possession order but the Court will have the discretion to refuse this if they believe it would be unfair to grant possession. In light of the pandemic, the Courts may take a more lenient approach, although this cannot be confirmed.
If you believe you may be at risk of being unable to pay your rent then we would urge you to speak to you landlord as soon as possible. If your landlord is unwilling to agree then we would encourage you, if at all possible, to try to keep your rental arrears to less than 2 months or 8 weeks, depending on when you pay rent.
My landlord has already applied for a possession order and/or already has a possession order. What now?
The Government has brought in new rules so that if your landlord has already applied for a possession order, the proceedings will be stayed until 26 June 2020. This means that your landlord will not be able to obtain a possession order until after this date. Remember, you are under no requirement to leave your home before a possession order has been obtained. If a date has already been set for a hearing then the court will be in touch to adjourn this but we would suggest contacting the court directly to make sure.
If your landlord already has a possession order and you remain in the property, your landlord will need to ask the court to grant a warrant allowing them to instruct a bailiff to remove you from the property. The court will not grant this until at least 26 June 2020. You cannot be required to leave the property until your landlord has obtained this.
You may wish to use this 3 month period to enter into negotiations with your landlord to settle any arrears or to put forward a payment plan. Your landlord will likely be aware that they will be unable to secure possession of the property, meaning they may be more willing to listen to any sensible proposals you have.
A link to the practice direction setting out the new rules can be found here – www.justice.gov.uk/courts/procedure-rules/civil/rules/part51/practice-direction-51z-stay-of-possession-proceedings,-coronavirus
What do I do if I have received a notice to quit?
Firstly you should consider whether you are entitled to legal aid because you may qualify for free legal advice and representation. This will depend on your own individual personal circumstances. You should contact a legal aid solicitor who will be able to advise you whether you will qualify.
Where can I get further advice?
Progression does not offer legal aid, but we do offer advice to clients who are not eligible for legal aid. If you need our assistance please telephone us to discuss with a member of our dispute-resolution team.
There are several organisations and charities who offer free housing advice:-
you may wish to contact your local Citizens Advice Bureau.
The situation is constantly changing and the Government may bring in further protection in due course. However, this post represents our best interpretation of HM Government’s guidance, where applicable, at the time of our writing. Both the content of the post and any guidance it is based upon will be subject to change.