For landlords cheered by the resumption of the courts hearing possession cases from 21 September, there’s bad news. It was only to be expected that, following the stop on bailiffs acting in areas already facing Tier 3 restrictions, possessions in the rest of the country would be halted again during the current lockdown.
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has now confirmed this is the case. In a letter to the High Court Enforcement Officers Association he says there will be no enforcement of possession orders until the lockdown ends. There is one exception. In “urgent cases” possession can still be sought.
So what counts as urgent? First, the enforcement ban will not apply to landlords facing “extreme pre-COVID rent arrears”. It's not entirely clear what "extreme" means but Landlord Action's Paul Shamplina thinks this refers to arrears of more than 12 months which were already being dealt with by the courts before the Covid outbreak. However, such cases will still be hard to progress:"First we have to persuade the county court to transfer the landlord’s case to the High Court, if that can be done, with evidence showing severe arrears and hardship to the landlord," he says. Success will then depend on how quickly the judge will deal with the application.
There is also a handful of other exemptions including evictions based on:
Landlords will, in the main, understand the reasoning behind this decision, although those facing financial hardship or wishing to exit the rental market are likely to be less supportive. And inevitably it will slow down, once again, the huge backlog of possession cases now waiting to be heard.
The London School of Economics calculates that three times the current number of tenants will be in rent arrears in England during the next year – impacting up to 700,000 renters and landlords. The LSE thinks this could lead to as many as 50,000 additional possession cases, few of which will now be heard until next Spring.
So our advice to landlords is to keep talking to your tenants. Keep communication open and civil if you can – and try and work out a way to at least collect some of the rent you are owed. Unless you have a real problem tenant that you are desperate to be rid of, staying out of court is always the best way forward. And for the immediate future, cooperation is likely to be the only option open to you.
Author : Maryanne Bowring
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