Important developments regarding rented properties and possession proceedings

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Following our brief update on Friday 21 August, confirming that the stay imposed upon possession proceedings was to be extended in a last minute move by the Government, more information is now available about the future of possession claims in the short to medium term.

Unfortunately, there remain a number of important, unanswered questions.

The Government has confirmed that, in addition to the extension of the Court stay on possession proceedings to 20 September 2020, notices under s21 and s8 of the Housing Act 1988 will be required to give six months’ notice and that this requirement will remain in place until at least 31 March 2021.

It is not clear when the requirement to serve six months’ notice will come into force or what will happen to the three month notices served since March 2020. However, if the Government adopts a similar approach to that used when notice periods were extended to three months’, those notices already served giving three months’ notice will remain valid and proceedings may be issued based upon them.

It may be that there is some time remaining to serve a notice giving three months rather than six, and landlords who had anticipated serving notice may wish to do so in the hope that they will serve ahead of the (as yet unknown) date upon which the six month notice requirement takes effect.

In a press release confirming that notice periods were to be extended to six months’, Housing Minister Robert Jenrick has suggested cases raising “serious issues such as those involving anti-social behaviour and domestic abuse” may be exempt from the six month notice requirement. However, information has yet to be provided on the notice periods which may apply in these cases which have previously been included in the requirement to give three months’ notice.

The Courts have indicated that they will prioritise the most serious cases when things begin to return to normal, but it seems inevitable that cases will slip through the net given limited court resources and that these latest efforts to protect tenants to the detriment of landlords will cause further delay and confusion whilst simply pushing the problem back until Spring 2021.

It is also unclear whether any thought has been given to the current ‘shelf life’ of  s21 notices and, in particular, the requirement enshrined in the amended Housing Act 1988 that possession proceedings must be issued within six months of service of the notice. Clearly, this will not be possible if the notice itself expires after six months, leaving no time to issue.

It is to be hoped that more information will be forthcoming in the next few days.