It has been widely reported since the Prime Minister’s comments on 18 March 2020 that the Government is promising emergency legislation to suspend new evictions from rented accommodation for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick MP said: “These are extraordinary times and renters and landlords alike are of course worried about paying their rent and mortgage. Which is why we are urgently introducing emergency legislation to protect tenants in social and private accommodation from an eviction process being started.”
The Government is proposing that under new laws, residential landlords will not be able to start possession proceedings against tenants for at least three months, during the COID-19 outbreak. This coincides with a three-month mortgage holiday for landlords whose tenants may not be able to meet rental payments due to financial difficulties caused by the measures to curb the outbreak.
After the three-month hiatus, the Government is expecting landlords and tenants to work together to establish affordable repayment plans, taking into consideration tenants' individual circumstances. There will a change to the pre-action protocol for court claims to extend it to these types of possession claims and encourage landlords and tenants to resolve their disputes.
At the time of writing, it is not clear when this emergency legislation will be passed. Unsurprisingly, the measures were not mentioned in the coronavirus bill published by the Government on 17 March 2020 and there is no update on the Justice website concerning a change to the pre-action protocol. However, it is expected that the new proposed legislation will come before parliament in the next few days.
Until we have had sight of the proposed bill, it is not clear whether it will propose a complete ban on the issue of all possession proceedings for whatever reason or whether it will relate to claims brought solely for rent arrears. It is also unclear whether it will relate to what is often referred to as the “section 21 no fault” procedure or whether section 8 applications will also be prevented. Hopefully, it will also provide clarity on whether tenants have to prove hardship due to the outbreak or whether it will be a complete ban irrespective of the tenant’s individual circumstances.
It is doubtful that the new legislation will be similar to that proposed in the Queen’s speech and the Renter’s Reform Bill 2019. It is likely to be more far-reaching, but with a purpose of providing temporary relief to renters during the Covid-19 outbreak.