Once again, a last-minute government announcement extends the suspension of housing possessions claims. The government now expects eviction claims to recommence on 20th September 2020 in England and Wales and on 30th March 2021 in Scotland and Northern Ireland, subject to the introduction of the necessary emergency legislation.
The government has also announced that it is planning to temporarily increase notice periods for Section 8 and 21 notice to 6 months for all tenants, and has indicated that when the courts do reopen, they will deal with cases of antisocial behaviour and cases with over 12 months’ rent arrears first.
The most recent announcement has been welcomed by the Labour Party and homelessness charities such as Shelter, who are pushing to see notice periods in England and Wales increased to 6 months on a permanent basis moving forward.
However, the lack of clarity from the government is becoming increasingly frustrating for landlords, who will find it difficult to plan and manage their property investments while eviction procedures are changing so rapidly and with such short notice, particularly since there is no guarantee that they will not be subject to further future changes.
With possession claims taking longer and with less certainty as to how the courts will deal with them, there is greater time and greater incentive for landlords to reach a direct agreement with problem tenants earlier, outside the courts. This may involve compromises that would be a bitter pill for landlords to swallow in other circumstances.
However, perhaps there is some consolation in that all current reports indicate that rental demand is up, so at least subsequent reletting is unlikely to prove problematic and might give an opportunity for landlords to find tenants working in the public sector or relying on other ‘COVID-secure’ income streams.