Update: changes in notice period 2021
From 1 August 2021, the government has announced that tenants who are in arrears of less than 4 months, will only be entitled to 2 months notice from their landlords. For tenants who are in ‘serious arrears’ i.e. more than four months of unpaid rent, the notice period will remain at 4 weeks. This change comes in efforts to support tenants with longer notice periods whist balancing the need for landlords to have access to justice and commence legal action for unpaid rent and possession. Read more about the change here.
Update: Eviction notices must include details of the 'breathing space' debt scheme
Effective 4 May, Section 8 eviction notices must include details of the 'breathing space' debt scheme, which also comes into force on 4 May. A new Section 8 form has been issued with those details. If a landlord serves notice using the wrong form, they run the risk of having their possession claim dismissed.
Under the breathing space scheme, debtors (including tenants who owe rent) can apply for legal protections from creditor action for up to 60 days. The protections include pausing most enforcement action and contact from creditors and freezing most interest and charges on their debts. Debtors have to meet three criteria to access the scheme: they must agree to access debt advice; the debtor must be assessed by a debt advisor, to confirm if they are actually facing debt problems; and the debtor must not be in the breathing space scheme in the previous 12 months. There is an additional breathing space scheme for those suffering mental health problems and receiving treatment for them on the NHS, where the protection period continues during the period of the treatment, plus 30 days.
Update: Eviction ban extended to 31 May
The ban on evictions has been extended in England and Wales to the end of May. Exceptions include illegal occupation, anti-social behaviour, domestic violence and tenants with over six months’ rent arrears. Landlords can still give notice and bring possession proceedings but bailiffs can't carry out evictions.
The notice periods that landlords must provide are dependent on the type of tenancy and the type of notice that has been served: usually 6 months' notice for assured shorthold tenancies, except in some limited cases e.g. antisocial behaviour.
The government guidance can be found here.
Update July 2020 - Pre-action protocol
Initially announced back in March, the first expected changes to the pre-action protocols i.e. the steps landlords have to take before they can apply to court for a possession order have been announced.
Among the updates, landlords seeking possession due to non-payment of rent will be required to provide details of the impact of Covid-19 has had on tenants ability to pay rent.
The amendments also suspend the minimum period between the issuing of a claim form and a hearing taking place. A move that will help alleviate some of the pressure on the courts once hearings recommence.
These measures are due to remain until 28 March 2021 - for more details, read the announcement on the Judiciary's website here
Help for landlords…
Despite the crisis, both rent and mortgage payments will still be due as normal – either now or at a later date as things begin to recover.
Landlords whose tenants are struggling to pay the rent can also check what their mortgage lender may be able to do for them.
Many lenders are offering three-month payment holidays for their customers and this specifically includes landlords with either buy-to-let mortgages and tenants who are facing financial difficulties due to the impact of COVID-19.
However, lenders will add the interest to the end of the term of the loan, so it’s important to get a clear statement from them of the consequences of using this option.
Making a new agreement with your tenants…
While landlords are under no obligation to reduce or delay rent payments, even if their tenants are struggling, the intention is to pass on some of the benefit of a mortgage holiday to tenants and alleviate the pressures being felt by both parties.
They can do this by attempting to work together with their tenants to establish a repayment plan that the tenant finds affordable and takes their personal circumstances into account.
Landlords can use our payment plan template to record the terms of any temporary arrangement between them and their tenants during this time.
We also recommend that landlords keep an accurate paper trail of any steps they’ve taken to date, in order to protect their position and build evidence that helps support their case should they need to take legal steps in the future.
Once the government signals the end of the initial crisis, the option to repossess the property will be reinstated. But, it's likely that the government will place additional requirements on landlords for this to be successful.
The current gov.uk rental guidance only defines this as “landlords and tenants will be expected to work together to establish an affordable repayment plan, taking into account tenants’ individual circumstances.” but before possession orders can be granted, the courts will want to see that landlords attempted to do so.
Finally, the government have consolidated all of their COVID-19 advice for landlords and tenants here.
You may also find the government’s guidance on landlord and tenant matters helpful.
Renting out a house or a flat to tenants comes with many rules and regulations that you need to follow, and it’s important to abide by these from the start – not only to protect your tenants but to protect yourself too.