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Government backtracks (a little) on eviction notice periods

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Backtracking a little on initial indications of how an extension of the ban on tenant evictions in England would work, the Government has cut the notice period required for possession proceedings for the most serious cases.

New regulations that apply from 29 August until March 2021, require landlords to give tenants 6 months’ notice prior to seeking possession through the courts. But they include exceptions for possession claims involving anti-social behaviour (now 4 weeks’ notice), domestic abuse (now 2 to 4 weeks’ notice), false statement (now 2 to 4 weeks’ notice), over 6 months’ accumulated rent arrears (now 4 weeks’ notice), and breach of the ‘right to rent’ immigration rules (now 3 months’ notice).

Notices served on and before 28 August are not affected by these changes, and must be at least 3 months.

New court rules that come into force on 20 September require landlords to set out in their claim any relevant information about a tenant’s circumstances, including information on the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. Where this information is not provided, judges will be empowered to adjourn proceedings.

‘These changes will support landlords to progress the priority cases while keeping the public safe over winter’, said Housing Minister Robert Jenrick, when introducing the regulations (The Coronavirus Act 2020 (Residential Tenancies: Protection from Eviction) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020).

‘We will keep these measures under review and decisions will continue to be guided by the latest public health advice.

‘Courts will carefully prioritise the most egregious cases, including anti-social behaviour, fraud, and domestic abuse, ensuring landlords are able to progress the most serious cases, such as those involving anti-social behaviour and other crimes’, he promised.

The new rules apply to both the private and social rented sectors in England, and to all new notices in relation to assured, assured shorthold, secure, flexible, introductory and demoted tenancies and those under the Rent Act 1977, but not to any notices issued before the legislation comes into force.

The National Landlord Knowledges Association said the new regulations amounted to an ‘important concession’.

In cases of tenant rent arrears, landlords will now only be required to give four weeks’ notice where a tenant has built six months of arrears – not the year originally suggested. This will ensure action can start to be taken now against tenants whose arrears had been built up before the COVID lockdown, it pointed out.

But the NRLA said it was ‘disappointed that the six-month notice period will remain in cases where landlords need to regain possession of a property in order to live in it’. This will continue to penalise those, such as service men and women in the military, renting their homes out whilst working away, it said.

‘Today’s announcement provides welcome clarity about how possession cases will be handled. However, it will mean nothing without a complete guarantee that the courts will hear cases from 20 September’, said NRLA chief executive Ben Beadle.

‘It is disappointing that the Government has so far failed to heed the warnings of the NRLA and others that a financial package is needed to pay-off rent arrears built due to COVID. In the end this is the best way to sustain tenancies. We will continue to campaign hard for this important measure’.

Besides the new regulations, the Government has published a host of updated forms and guidance – see New forms, formats and guidance below – including Technical guidance on eviction notices.