Assured Shorthold Tenancies - termination and continuing obligations - Coronavirus Act 2020
Following the blanket ban on new possession claims being issued during the COVID-19 emergency period, we are slowly seeing further information through from Government and the Courts on the present position.
The Coronavirus Act 2020 (“CA 2020”) was given Royal Assent on 25 March 2020. This emergency Act provides legislation for a host of matter including almost all of the recent changes made by Government around finance, movement of people and in respect of property.
These provisions do not apply to Licences, Contractual Tenancies or Tenancies granted in the course of employment.
Section 21 notices
Schedule 29 of the CA 2020 extends the notice period required to be given to tenants during the COVID-19 emergency period to three month. The prescribed form of notices are not going to be changed but instead are to be “read as” per the changes set out in the CA 2020 for the relevant period. Landlords should proceed with caution in this regard, ensure that the required three months notice is provided regardless of the forms’ content, and draw Tenants’ attention in the covering letter to the fact that the notice should be read as per the changes set out in the CA 2020.
At present these changes are expected to be in force until 30 September 2020, although this can be extended by further Statutory Instrument if necessary.
Notices served before today giving only two months notice will still be valid. Landlords should have regard for the expiry date of such notices, which in the case of Section 21 notices will be four months from the relevant expiry date, and if proceedings are not issued on time then new notices will need to be served.
Rent arrears claims
A new Pre-Action Protocol for Rent Arrears is anticipated, which will deal with how Landlords must approach rent arrears situations which relate to COVID-19 issues tenants are facing or have faced. A guidance note will accompany the new Practice Direction, which will further elaborate the new provisions.
Existing Possession claims
Further guidance from the Courts is expected shortly, but in the meanwhile it is clear that parties should not attend any hearings currently listed (unless specifically ordered otherwise). Where possible these may be held by telephone/video conference instead, although presently it is expected that all hearings listed for the next three weeks will be adjourned for at least three weeks, and Landlords/their representatives should take all reasonable efforts to notify their Tenants/Defendants of this fact and details of the new arrangements for any hearings.
Continuing obligations on Landlords – Repairs and Gas Safety inspections
Despite the difficulties at present with arranging tradesmen, Landlords must continue to comply with their statutory obligations, including repair and maintenance, and Gas Safety inspections. Naturally if Tenants are self isolating, care must be had to arranging access, either by delaying for 14 days where possible or in such a manner that would avoid contact with the Tenants.
When seeking access, Landlords should ask the Tenants to confirm that they have complied with the Public Health England guidance and further that they are not presently self isolating for a 14 day period by reason of suspected Coronavirus infection.
Gas Safety inspections can be carried out anywhere from 10 to 12 months after the previous check without losing the original annual check date, so if a Gas Safety Check is due on a property in May 2020, Landlords may wish to seek to arrange the inspection now (and the next check will then still not be due until May 2021) rather than risk trying to get it carried out in May when there may be even more stringent rules on the movement of people and workers in England and Wales.