Further details are emerging of how courts will deal with housing possession cases when they resume next week (24 August 2020). Possession proceedings have been suspended since March to protect private and social renters, and those with mortgages and licences covered by the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 during the Covid-19 pandemic.
However that suspension comes to an end next week after 6 months and landlord will be able to start or continue their housing possession claims from Monday.
Hubert Van Arkadie, a housing solicitor at Mansouri & Son Solicitors, says nothing much is likely to happen on Monday. Court staff will start dealing with the huge the backlog of cases that has built up since March 2020 and there will be new ones coming through. These will be listed subject to rules and directions currently being drawn up.
The advice to landlords with cases in the backlog is that they will have to write to the court with a reactivation notice. In other words they have to write a letter to the court asking for their possession proceedings case to proceed and be ‘listed’ for the next stage in the case. If landlords fail to do this their case could eventually be struck out if they don’t.
Some cases will have gone beyond a first hearing before the suspension in March while some others will need to be listed for the first time. Hubert
Van Arkadie advises: ‘In either case the landlord will have to comply with new direction requirements in which they are going to have to set out their case for possession in more detail than previously.’
Landlords will have to flag up any Covid-related issues, which tenants will also be able to do. New possession cases will be listed for a review date. This will enable tenants to get advice, from a court duty adviser in advance of any court hearing.
Tenants should also be aware that they can still be evicted if their landlord chooses to seek possession. At present, tenants can be evicted under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, which requires no specific reason for possession, and under mandatory ground 8 of section 8 of the 1988 act, if correct procedures have been followed.
The government is currently working with the judiciary to widen the pre-action protocol on possession proceedings to include private renters and strengthen its remit.
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick told the Commons housing, communities and local government committee that the protocol ‘puts a duty upon the landlord to work in good faith with their tenant to see if there is a sensible way in which you can manage the situation before embarking upon possession proceedings’.
However, the committee has urged the government to bring forward legislation to amend the 1985 and 1988 housing acts to allow judges to use discretion where a tenant is in rent arrears due to the pandemic. Discretion could include considering whether a pre-action protocol has been followed correctly. This means that now, more than ever, landlords seeking possession must ensure that they have carefully and correctly followed each step in the process, according to the law.
The committee says that the government should also accelerate its plans to introduce the Renters’ Reform Bill and abolish ‘no fault evictions’ under section 21 of the 1988 act within the next 12 months.
As long as section 21 remained on the statute book, ‘it will remain an option for landlords’, the committee warned.
If you are a landlord seeking possession of your property for whatever reason, you need to ensure that you provide the correct written notice to your tenant and follow the various steps and timelines, to ensure that your case for possession stands a chance of success. If you are unsure about what steps you need to take, contact us for advice.