Information about paying rent and inspecting properties during the COVID-19 outbreak
The impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Our Housing Teams may be working differently because of the impact of COVID-19. Routine property inspections are taking place but please bear with us as we continue with essential work and supporting the vulnerable.
On 21 June 2021 Government guidance for tenants and landlords was updated to reflect recent easing of restrictions. The full guidance can be found on the GOV.UK website - guidance for landlords and tenants.
Rent, mortgage payments and possession proceedings
Tenants should continue to pay rent and abide by all other terms of their tenancy agreement to the best of their ability. Tenants who are unable to do so should speak to their landlord at the earliest opportunity and seek advice on available benefits and financial support.
There is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach. Rent levels agreed in the tenancy agreement remain legally due. It is therefore important for landlords to be flexible and have a frank and open conversation with their tenants at the earliest opportunity, to allow both parties to agree a sensible way forward. If a landlord and tenant agree a plan of a reduced rent for a set period or to pay off arrears in instalments, it is important they both stick to this plan, and that tenants talk to their landlord immediately if they are unable to do so.
The Government has worked with the National Residential Landlords Association to produce a guide to managing arrears and avoiding possession claims during the Covid pandemic which private landlords and tenants may find useful to consult. The free guide includes golden rules and a ‘Pre-Action Plan for Managing Arrears and avoiding Possession Claims’.
Social landlords and tenants are referred to the Pre-Action Protocol for possession claims by social landlords. You can find out more on the GOV.UK website - possession action process guidance.
Where appropriate, if disputes over rent or other matters persist, landlords and tenants are encouraged to consider mediation. The Government is funding a pilot mediation service for cases that have reached the courts from February 2021 which will be free for landlords and tenants to use (Rental Mediation Service (RMS) and is currently available across England and Wales.).
Tenants may also wish to contact Shelter for advice.
Protections for tenants under the Coronavirus Act 2020
From 26 March 2020, the Coronavirus Act 2020 has protected most tenants and secure licensees in the private and social rented sectors with measures requiring landlords, in most cases, to give extended notice of their intention to seek possession before starting court action. The measures do not apply retroactively to notices already issued, so notices issued before 26 March 2020 are unaffected, and the specific rules which apply subsequently depend on the period in which the notice was issued:
For notices issued between 26 March 2020 and 28 August 2020:
- the required notice period was 3 months
The provisions in the Coronavirus Act 2020 were extended for notices issued between 29 August 2020 and 31 May 2021:
- landlords had to provide 6 months’ notice to their tenants in most circumstances.
6 month notice exceptions
The required notice periods in relation to anti-social behaviour, domestic abuse, rioting and false statement, were returned to their pre-Coronavirus Act 2020 lengths. In some cases, this means that proceedings for anti-social behaviour can be brought immediately after notice has been served. Notice periods on these grounds otherwise vary, depending on the type of tenancy and ground used, between two weeks and one month.
Where at least six months of rent is unpaid, a minimum four-week notice period was required. If less than six months of rent is unpaid, then the notice period was six months.
Where a tenant has passed away, or is in breach of immigration rules, and does not have a right to rent a property in the United Kingdom then a minimum three-month notice period was usually required.
Where a social tenant has an introductory or demoted tenancy (used by local authorities), for cases concerning anti-social behaviour (including rioting) and domestic abuse, a four-week notice period was required. Otherwise, notice periods for Introductory and Demoted Tenancies was six months.
A six-month notice period was required for all other grounds, including Section 21 notices and, as stated earlier, where accrued rent arrears were less than the value of six months’ rent.
From 1 June 2021, landlords must serve at least four months’ notice in all but the most serious cases:
- notice periods for the most serious cases which have already returned to their pre-COVID lengths will remain lower (as outlined above)
- notice periods for cases where possession in sought on the grounds of the death of the tenant or where the tenant is in breach of immigration rules and does not have a right to rent a property in the United Kingdom are two months’ and two weeks’ notice respectively.
The threshold for serious arrears (where the shorter four-week notice period can be used) is four or more months’ rent is in arrears.
A four-month notice period is required for all other grounds, including Section 21 notices and termination of local authority flexible tenancies.
For cases where possession is sought on rent arrears grounds, but the arrears do not meet the threshold for the ‘serious’ notice period (four months’ arrears), the notice period will reduce again on 1 August to two months.
Where a social tenant has an introductory or demoted tenancy (used by local authorities), for cases concerning anti-social behaviour (including rioting), domestic abuse, false statement, and rent arrears of at least four months, a four-week notice period is required. From 1 August, the notice period where there are less than four months’ rent arrears will further reduce to two months. Otherwise, notice periods for Introductory and Demoted Tenancies will be four months.
At the expiry of the notice period, a landlord cannot force a tenant to leave their home without a court order.
If disputes persist, landlords and tenants are encouraged to consider mediation. (See mediation advice above). Tenants may also wish to contact Shelter for advice.
For further information about possession proceedings during the coronavirus (COVID-19) please visit GOV.UK - guidance for landlords and tenants.
Section 21 notice between 29 August 2020 and 31 May 2021
Where a landlord gives a tenant a valid Section 21 notice between 29 August 2020 and 31 May 2021 inclusive, the notice will be valid for:
- 10 months from the date it is given to the tenant, where Section 21(4D) applies, or
- four months from the date specified in the notice as the date after which possession is required if Section 21(4E) applies.
Section 21 notice after 1 June 2021
Where a landlord gives a tenant a valid Section 21 notice on or after 1 June 2021, the notice will be valid for:
- eight months from the date it is given to the tenant, where Section 21 (4D) applies, or
- four months from the date specified in the notice, as the date after which possession is required, if Section 21 (4E) applies.
Section 8 notices
The validity of Section 8 notices remains unchanged by the Coronavirus Act 2020. Section 8 notices continue to be valid for 12 months after they are served.
If a landlord wishes to serve a new notice of the same type, they should withdraw the first notice before they serve a new notice and seek legal advice.
Licences to occupy (including property guardians)
The Coronavirus Act only applies to tenants so will not apply to licences to occupy (other than a secure licence under the Housing Act 1985). For further advice, please visit GOV.UK - property guardians fact sheet.
Ending tenancies early
It’s important that landlords offer support and understanding to tenants who may start to see their income fluctuate. This may include allowing tenants to end the tenancy by giving less notice than allowed for in the tenancy agreement or permitting them to end the tenancy before the fixed term expires especially where a new tenant can be found or a fee can be agreed. (an exit fee may not exceed the loss incurred or reasonable costs. See Tenants Fees Act.
Tenants leaving the property without providing proper notice
If landlords believe that their tenant has left the property but has not surrendered the tenancy they should verify that they have left the property before taking any further action by using any contact information which the tenant submitted at the start of the tenancy, or, consider the use of a tracing agent.
The tenant should be given 24 hours’ notice of any visit to the property. Landlords may only enter the property in the case of an emergency, and in this case only when accompanied by an independent witness who will be able to record the situation in writing.
If landlords change the locks or enter the property and have not got confirmation that their tenant has left, a court may find that they have evicted their tenant illegally and could receive a custodial sentence or a fine if convicted.
Resolving disputes and serving a notice of possession
Landlords and tenants are encouraged to resolve disputes without going to court wherever possible. Landlords must follow strict procedures if they want a tenant to leave a property, depending on the type of tenancy agreement in place and the terms of it. Most private and social tenants, and licensees, can only be evicted with a court order following the service of the relevant notice.
A landlord cannot use violence or threat of violence to evict someone, in any circumstances. If landlords do not follow the appropriate legal procedures, they may be guilty of illegal eviction and/or harassment.
For disputes over rent and tenancy mediation advice see the 'Rent, mortgage payments and possession proceedings' section above.
Note: if you require advice on individual cases, or you are worried you may have been illegally evicted, you should contact a free, impartial advice service such as Citizens Advice or Shelter. If you are eligible for Legal Aid, you can also contact Civil Legal Advice for free and confidential advice.
Possession action in the county court
Since 21 September 2020, the courts have been considering possession cases. New arrangements have been put in place to ensure that all parties have access to justice and appropriate support. More information on the new court arrangements can be found in the guidance for landlords and tenants on the possession action process through the courts.
From 1 June 2021 bailiffs are again able to send out notices of evictions and enforce evictions. 14day notice is required to be given, and bailiffs have been asked not to carry out an eviction if anyone living in the property has COVID-19 symptoms or is self-isolating.
The courts reopened on 21 September 2020 with new arrangements and rules in place. See GOV.UK - possession action process guidance.
If tenants have attempted to resolve instances of anti-social behaviour, or feel uncomfortable resolving the matter, they should contact their landlord, the local authority, and the police to report anti-social behaviour.
When dealing with antisocial behaviour landlords should seek legal advice. Eviction of a tenant should only be used as a last resort and mediation should be considered. From 29 August 2020, for notices in relation to anti-social behaviour, the required notice periods have returned to their pre-Coronavirus Act 2020 lengths.
Illegal eviction is when a landlord or another person deprives a tenant of their home without following the correct legal process.
Most tenants are protected under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 against harassment and illegal eviction by landlords. Harassment can be anything a landlord does, or fails to do, that makes a tenant feel unsafe in the property or forces them to leave. Landlords are required to get a court order and ask bailiffs to evict the tenant.
Local authorities have enforcement powers to tackle illegal evictions and can investigate offences of harassment and illegal eviction and, if the evidence justifies it, prosecute where an offence has been committed.
In cases where the landlord has been convicted of acting illegally, they may be subject a rent repayment order, a fine and/or imprisonment for up to two years. The landlord may also be subject to a banning order.
If a tenant is being forced out of their home illegally, they should contact the police and their local authority as soon as possible. For advice on individual cases, or if a tenant is worried they may have been illegally evicted, they should seek legal advice or contact a free impartial advice service such as The Citizen Advice Bureau or Shelter.
Repairs and maintenance in homes
Landlords are able to carry out normal services to properties – including urgent and routine repairs and safety inspections, and planned maintenance provided these are undertaken in line with the latest guidance on (COVID-19) Coronavirus restrictions, including:
- what you can and cannot do
- public health advice
- the relevant coronavirus (COVID-19) legislation
- guidance on working safely in peoples homes.
Reducing the risk of infection in shared accommodation, accommodation with shared facilities, and overcrowded accommodation
This guidance is for people living in all types of housing, in particular, for people who live in:
- accommodation with shared facilities, such as a block of flats
- overcrowded accommodation
- shared accommodation*
Shared accommodation could include:
- a flat or house share where tenants live with another person with whom they are not related and share cooking and bathroom facilities
- a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO), which is where three or more people from two or more different families share cooking or bathroom facilities
- co-living where multiple people/households share some facilities or common areas
For further information, please visit GOV.UK - shared and overcrowded guidance.