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Although the ban on possession proceedings ended on 20 September, and courts are now open for business, landlords must fulfil a number of new requirements if they wish to pursue tenant evictions.
There will certainly not be a surge of new possession cases because, except in cases involving anti-social behaviour or fraud, notice periods of six months are now required (this will at least until March 2021) before proceedings may be filed – and the notice must be in the new specified form.
Landlords will be expected to take tenant circumstances into account and to have tried to resolve issues via mediation rather than through the courts.
Those cases already in chain before new coronavirus restrictions came into place will not move forward unless reactivated. And there are now new and updated forms for this that must be completed by those landlords wishing to re-activate claims, including accelerated possession claims filed before 3 August 2020. Those landlords who have previously prepared reactivation notices will have to repeat the process in the new form.
Meanwhile, court time is being rationed. Priority is being given to possession cases involving rent arrears of at least 12 months’ rent, or nine months’ rent if it is more than 25 per cent of a landlords’ total annual income from any source. Other cases being given priority include those involving squatting, domestic violence, fraud, deception, illegal sub-letting, and abandonment of a property.
New procedure rules have also been published.
Enforcement of possession orders will also be prioritised.
‘When the courts were closed in March this year, it didn’t just prevent landlords from starting new applications for possession orders, bailiffs and high court enforcement officers also stopped enforcing orders’, explained NRLA senior policy officer James Wood.
‘As with the re-opening of the courts, landlords should temper their expectations about how quickly they might regain possession. With a six month backlog of cases and less than 300 bailiffs operating full time across England and Wales, priority will have to be given to the most serious possession cases. To account for this, bailiffs will schedule enforcement based on the priority of need and the order in which the application was made. This will likely mean that cases of serious anti-social behaviour or extreme rent arrears will be heard first followed by outstanding warrants from pre-lockdown’.
Citizen’s Advice advises tenants: ‘If your landlord wants to evict you from your privately rented home there are three stages he or she will have to go through. First, the landlord will need to serve you with a notice. When this expires, he or she will need to go to court to get a possession order, and finally apply for a bailiff visit to evict you. It’s really important to know where you are in that process.
‘If your landlord has not yet given you a formal notice then you won’t be evicted for many months’.