Landlords and Agents alike had been looking forward to the stay of possession proceedings and evictions finally expiring on 23 August 2020. A last minute u-turn decision on 21 August 2020 resulted in yet a further extension being announced to expire on 20 September 2020. Given that this is the second extension of the original stay, only time will tell whether or not a further extension beyond 20 September 2020 will be announced. It is clear that balance needs to be struck to protect vulnerable tenants during the pandemic crisis against landlords suffering financially due to the consequences of COVID-19.
In the lead up to 23 August 2020, many landlords and agents were preparing Reactivation Notices in an effort to “kick start” their proceedings; whether that be in relation to possession proceedings that existed prior to the stay being imposed on 27 March 2020 or new claims that had been issued during the pandemic but prior to 3 August 2020. This requirement was included within the new practice direction (“PD55C”). There are different requirements for possession claims issued after 3 August 2020.
In any event, where Reactivation Notices are required, these must be filed (at Court) and served (upon the tenant(s)) by no later than 29 January 2021; failing which the possession claim will be automatically stayed until such time that a formal application to the Court at an additional cost is lodged. There does not appear to be any sanction for failing to lodge a Reactivation Notice by the aforesaid date – just that the formal application will be required.
At the current time there is nothing to stop Reactivation Notices still being served once the extended stay lifts as the PD55C is still in force. As such, there is no harm in getting “in the queue” as of 21 September 2020 (if indeed the stay does lift on this date). The risk in serving the Reactivation Notice ahead of the expiry of the stay is that the same may get lost or forgotten about. Further, the PD55C may also change (although unlikely) which may result in unnecessary costs being incurred if it transpires that a Reactivation Notice is no longer required.
Extension of Notice Periods
An announcement was also made in respect of notice periods under Section 21 and Section 8 of the Housing Act 1988 being extended from 3 months (which was to apply as of 25 March 2020 pursuant to Schedule 29 of the Coronavirus Act 2029) to 6 months.
The initial extension of notice periods to three months was to apply to all notices served between 25 March 2020 – 30 September 2020.
At the current time no legislation has been introduced effecting the above change. It is expected that the same will also need to deal with the current “shelf life” of Section 21 Notices (as they have a 6 month shelf life for possession proceedings to be issued).
There is also a question mark as to whether the legislation will have retrospective effect in that for all notices served after 21 August 2020 will need to provide a 6 month notice period. It would seem advisable that a 3 month notice be given at the current time pending the legislation being introduced but in the knowledge that if the same does have retrospective effect a fresh notice with 6 months’ notice would need to be given.
Everything is very much “up in the air” with residential possession proceedings and more change is on the horizon. At the current time we are awaiting legislation to deal with the proposed increased notice period and it is questionable whether the government will extend the stay of proceedings beyond 20 September 2020.
In general, once the stay does eventually lift possession proceedings are likely to move slowly through the Court system due to the immense backlog. Coupled with this, the Court will also have to consider how best to deal with the previous block listed possession hearings due to public health reasons.
If you require specialist advice from a team that deals with large amounts of residential and commercial landlord and tenant work, feel free to contact BTMK at email@example.com or Louise Mickleburgh directly on firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone on 03300 585 222 (local rate, 24/7).
Further details of our services for commercial and residential landlords can be found on our website at https://www.btmksolicitors.co.uk/personal-law/landlord-and-tenant/