NRLA pressing Government keep its word over resumption of possession hearings

Posted on Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The National Residential Landlords’ Association is keeping up pressure on Government to keep to its word over the resumption of possession hearings and is also highlighting the plight of a specific group of landlords who are effectively locked out of their own properties.

The current ban on repossessions in the residential rental market in England and Wales is due to end on Sunday 20th September

This follows the U-turn on the 21st August which saw the Government extend the ban by a further month in chaotic, last minute circumstances.

At the time the Master of the Rolls described the nature and timing of the extension as “extremely unusual”.

By the 20th September, it will have been six months in which landlords have been unable to:

  • Take action against those tenants committing anti-social behaviour and causing misery for fellow tenants and neighbours.
  • Take action against those perpetrating acts of domestic violence.
  • Address situations where tenants were building rent arrears prior to lockdown that have nothing to do with COVID-19.
  • Regain possession of their homes where they have rented them out whilst working elsewhere, such as those in the military.

Given the above the courts need to open again to begin to hear the most urgent cases under the new rules which will provide protections for tenants affected by COVID-19 as outlined below.

Ministers have said that this will happen when the current stay on repossession ends, but it is essential that they do not renege on this commitment as happened in August.

Protections for Tenants Affected by COVID-19

When the courts start hearing claims for repossession again, a landlord with a claim already in progress will have to provide a ‘re-activation notice’ informing the court (and the tenant) in writing. If they don’t, the case will remain dormant.

Where these, or a new claim, include non-payment of rent, the landlord has to set out what knowledge they have about the tenant’s circumstances including the effect of the coronavirus pandemic on them and their dependants.

If this information is not forthcoming or is deemed inadequate by the courts, the judges will have powers to adjourn the case. Such a delay would mean that the landlord may continue to receive no rent from the tenant and so this will hit them in the pocket. This will encourage landlords to engage with their tenants prior to court action including seeking ways to sustain tenancies using the NRLA’s rent arrears management guidance.

The courts will prioritise cases involving extreme arrears built before the lockdown, anti-social behaviour and domestic violence. Those that are not a priority case will take longer, offering further time for alternative accommodation to be sought and providing further incentive for landlords to seek agreement outside of the courts.

Alongside this, the Government has introduced rules which mean that in most cases landlords will be required to provide six months’ notice to a tenant where they want to repossess a property. This will include all Section 21 (no explanation) repossessions. The exemptions will be the following situations:

  • Tenant anti-social behaviour (4 weeks’ notice)
  • Perpetrators of domestic violence (2 to 4 weeks’ notice)
  • Tenant provides false statements to landlords (2 to 4 weeks’ notice)
  • Tenant has accumulated 6 months’ of rent arrears (4 weeks’ notice)
  • Breach of immigration rules ‘Right to Rent’ (now 3 months’ notice)

Problem Still to be Addressed

Those who rent their own homes out whilst working elsewhere, such as those in the military, will continue to need to give six months’ notice to access their homes, effectively locking them out of their own property. The NRLA is calling on the Government to address this anomaly.

Chris Norris, Policy Director for the National Residential Landlords Association, said:

“The Government needs to keep its word and ensure that urgent repossession cases can be heard again after the 20th September.

“We need the courts to deal with cases where tenants are committing anti-social behaviour or where there are long-standing rent arrears that have nothing to do with the pandemic. Over the last six months landlords have been powerless to take any action against those who cause misery for fellow tenants and neighbours. This has to end.”