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Coronavirus 2020 – Guidance for Landlords and Tenants

By Manisha Walia

The Coronavirus Act 2020 (“the Act”) came into force on 25 March 2020 and implemented various provisions and guidance to assist with COVID-19 related issues. This included guidance for landlords and protection for tenants during these unprecedented times.

This protection covers most tenants in the private and social rented sectors, and all grounds of evictions. For statutory residential tenancies, the notice period for terminating tenancies or giving the tenant prior notice of proceedings for possession has been extended to three months, after which the Landlord must apply to court in order to proceed. These measures apply for a period of six months and expire on 30 September 2020, although there is provision in the legislation for this period to be extended if necessary.

The court service has suspended all ongoing housing possession action meaning that new cases or cases within the system cannot progress to eviction. This suspension will initially last for 90 days from 27 March 2020 and can also be extended if necessary. These measures have been implemented to ensure that everyone has a safe place to live in the current circumstances.

For commercial premises, the Act provides a moratorium on commencing forfeiture proceedings for non-payment of rent and other sums due under the lease until 30 June 2020. It is important to note that the moratorium applies generally and prohibits forfeiture proceedings regardless of whether or not the tenant’s failure to pay rent relates to COVID-19. Where proceedings have already been initiated, the courts will not be able to order that the tenant gives up possession before 30 June 2020 and where an order for possession has already been made, the date will be extended to fall after 30 June 2020. This provides protection for all commercial tenants.

Landlords and tenants are encouraged to adopt a pragmatic and realistic approach to issues that arise.

Tenants are still obliged to pay rent and abide by the terms of their tenancy agreement as far as possible. In the first instance, tenants who are unable to pay rent should speak to their landlord. It is important for both parties to support and understand one another as income and the situation generally fluctuates during this period. Both parties may be able to agree a sustainable plan if tenants are struggling to pay their rent. This may include a temporary agreement to accept a lower level of rent or agree to pay off arrears at a later date.

Landlords remain obliged to ensure that properties meet the required standards. Urgent repairs should be made as soon as practicable and agreement can be made for non-urgent repairs to be conducted at a later date.

The Government have also put specific measures in place for those facing financial hardship including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, an increase in Universal Credit, Housing Benefit and Local Housing Allowance, and a £500 million hardship fund. The Government also hopes to support landlords and maintain landlord-tenant relationships and therefore it has been agreed with lenders that they will ensure support is available. Landlords are protected by a three month mortgage payment holiday where they have a Buy-to-Let mortgage.

This article does not constitute legal advice and is aimed to provide an overview of the guidance at present. Information on COVID-19 is changing daily. Legal advice should be sought to address specific circumstances. Willsons Solicitors are still open for business and we are able to provide support and guidance for both Landlords and Tenants. Our litigation team may be able to advise in relation to Landlord-Tenant agreements, service/receipt of notices and disputes. We are contactable by telephone (02476 387 821), video conferencing, email and post. For corporate and commercial enquiries please contact Manisha Walia (mwalia@willsonslegal.co.uk). You can also contact us by clicking here.

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