Posted on Friday, November 27, 2020
Could landlords face a wait of two years for a court date?
The courts finally opened their door in September, following a last minute Government extension to the ban on repossessions. Landlords going through the court process – many of whom are owed significant amounts in arrears predating the crisis, or are grappling with antisocial tenants – breathed a collective sigh of relief. However, ‘open’ is not the equivalent of ‘functioning as normal’.
Contrary to the claims of campaigners and tenants’ groups, there was not a ‘tsunami of evictions’ on 21 September. How could there be? While courts were ‘open’, no hearings were taking place. For the first month at least, courts were working through the huge backlog of administration.
Further delays will result from the decision of bailiffs and enforcement officers to agree to the Lord chancellor’s request not to execute warrants for possession in arears under Tier 2 and 3 restrictions, and in Wales if a local or national lockdown is in place. At the time of going to press, this ban was expected to be extended across the country as part of the Government’s four-week national lockdown.
The National Landlords Association (NRLA) believes some landlords could face waits of up to two years to get a ‘non-priority’ cases heard in court, just one of the reasons it is campaigning for more financial support for the sector.
WHAT HAS CHANGED?
The changes brought in when the courts reopened mean landlords who started proceedings ahead of 3 August this year now need to serve a ‘reactivation’ notice to say they still want to move forward.
A new step has also been added to the court process: a ‘review’ hearing, in which courts will find out if cases are still going ahead and can ask questions. – virtually - of both parties. Landlords will need to show they have taken into account ways in which their tenant may have been affected by Covid-19 before applying to serve notice, and if they have been affected ‘they can mark their hearings as a ‘Covid-19 case’.
This means they have suffered ‘Hardship’ as a result of Covid-19 and could help when it comes to getting a hearing date. Tenants can also ask to have cases Covid-19 marked.
Throughout the stay on evictions, the NRLA campaigned long and hard for the government to prioritise cases that predated the pandemic and involved serious issues such as antisocial behaviour, violence and extreme rent arrears unrelated to covid-19.
The government took this recommendation on board – and in addition to prioritising cases, it has also reduced the six-month notice period in certain circumstances.
The government has said priority will be given to cases involving:
EXEMPTIONS TO SIX MONTH NOTICE PERIOD:
In Wales, the only exception is antisocial behaviour. If landlords circumstances meet any of these criteria, they should consider using the Section 8 route to repossession, which is likely to be much more timely than a Section 21.
John Stewart, the NRLA’s deputy director of policy and research, said: “Courts were already slow before the pandemic, with significant waiting times. They now have to deal with that existing backlog. The need to socially distance means capacity will be reduced, even with the new ‘Nightingale’ courts.
“Serving notice is not going to be a ‘quick fix’ for landlords, so we are encouraging people to come to some arrangement with their tenants. It is vital the Government steps up to support landlords who may be struggling to pay their own bills as a result of their tenants’ circumstances.”
NRLA GOLDEN RULES
The NRLA has worked with the government to create the below list of rules; follow these to try to keep out of court…
Try to understand:
2. ESTABLISH – Find out if the tenant may be considered vulnerable, such as disabled or single parent. If they are, local authority housing teams can give advice and support.
3. SIGNPOST – Point the tenant to groups that may be able to provide support or advice.
4. AGREE – Seek to agree an affordable payment plan. Guidance is available from NRLA
5. BE CLEAR – Provide rent statements for three-month periods (or 13-week periods if rent is paid weekly), showing any temporary reductions in rent or deferred payments.
6. CONSENT – Where the tenant is claiming housing benefits, see if you are about to get the rent paid directly to you through, an alternative payment arrangement. You can request deductions to repay arrears.
7. GUARANTORS – If there is a guarantor in place, involve them in discussions with tenants regarding payments of rent. Note that the financial situation of guarantors may also have changed.
8. MEDIATE - If you cannot initially agree, an independent mediator could help resolve your differences without the time/cost of taking a possession case to court.
9. RECORD – Keep copies of all documentation and a record of all contact with the tenant, and provide the information to the court should proceedings be necessary.
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