Evictions during Covid-19: Where do you stand now the ban is lifted?

Posted:30th September 2020

Most court proceedings connected to rent and mortgage arrears in England were put on hold by the government at the end of March, shortly after the country went into lockdown. The pause was initially for 90 days and was due to end on 25 June – protecting those tenants and homeowners who were facing hardship from homelessness. It was then extended until 23 August. However, at the last minute, the ban on evictions was extended yet again by government last month, giving another reprieve to those facing difficulty with their rent or mortgage payments.

But with the ban on evictions being lifted on Sunday, September 20, what does it mean for the thousands of landlords and tenants dealing with rent arrears? And what does it mean for people unable to pay their mortgages? For privately-owned properties in England, the following guidelines apply. The rules are different for landlords that are councils or housing associations.

How much notice must a landlord or mortgage lender give?

In most cases, a landlord seeking possession must give six months’ notice before starting court proceedings. This applies to new notices issued from 29 August 2020. However, only four weeks’ notice is required in some circumstances, for example if there are more than six months’ rent arrears.

Also, from 20 September 2020, when a landlord files their claim at court, they must state clearly what they know about their tenant’s circumstances, including the impact of the pandemic on them and their family. The court now has the power to adjourn the claim if not enough information is provided.

From 27 March 2020 to 28 August 2020 the notice period was only three months. If you are in mortgage arrears, your lender can legally start court proceedings after 20 September 2020. However, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has instructed lenders not to start or continue repossession proceedings against customers before 31 October 2020. In addition, a lender must follow a court-approved “Pre-Action Protocol” before starting court proceedings.

What about cases that had already started?

If court proceedings started on or before 2 August 2020, but were not finished, the landlord or mortgage lender must send the court, and serve the tenant or homeowner with, a reactivation notice. This notice confirms that they wish to continue with their claim. If they do not send it, their claim will remain on hold. For mortgage arrears, the same instruction to lenders from the FCA applies, i.e. lenders should not start or continue repossession proceedings before 31 October 2020.

What about cases that started and finished before 27 March 2020?

If the court gives a landlord or mortgage lender a Possession Order and the tenant or homeowner does not move out, the landlord or lender has to apply to court for a Warrant of Possession, commonly called an eviction notice. If the Warrant of Possession was issued before 27 March 2020, the tenant or homeowner could still be evicted. However, if the eviction has not taken place, the tenant or homeowner should apply to the court immediately to suspend the warrant.

Mortgage payment holidays

Finally, the FCA also confirmed in June that mortgage payment holidays would still be available to home-owners struggling financially until 31 October 2020, including landlords who are likely to have buy-to-let mortgages. This gives landlords the same reprieve as tenants during these turbulent times.

Obtaining good advice

The law around evictions has changed repeatedly during the last six months. For advice, contact Matthew Sigsworth on 0191 500 6989 or at [email protected]