The government has published updated guidelines for private and social tenants regarding evictions and possession orders.
In a series of lengthy press releases, the government has published full guidance on the laws and processes regarding section 21 and section 8 possession orders. In other words, landlord-forced evictions.
In “Understanding the possession action process: A guide for private residential tenants in England and Wales”, you’ll find a comprehensive guide for everything regarding evictions in the time of Covid-19 and beyond. Below is a brief précis of the most important information.
Advice for Private Rental Tenants
The following advice covers the processes which follow you landlord issuing you with either a section 21 or section 8 order. You can learn exactly what each of these are, here.
When your landlord issues the notice, it will “specify a date by which you are being asked to leave your home and after which possession proceedings may be started in the county court”.
If you live in England and your landlord served you notice on or after 29 August 2020 and before 31 May 2021, they must provide you with at least 6 months’ notice except in the most serious cases.
Such cases might include anti-social behaviour, false statement, and where “at least 6 months’ rent arrears have accrued”.
In Wales, if your landlord gave you notice from 26 March to 23 July 2020, the notice period must be at least 3 months. If your landlord served or serves you notice on or after 24 July 2020 until at least 31 March 2021, the notice period must be at least 6 months.
If you refuse to leave
If you are still in the property after the date stated on the notice, the courts can start getting involved.
Your landlord can issue a claim for possession in the county court, at which point they will have to inform the court, to the best of their knowledge, of what effect the Covid-19 pandemic has had on your life and those of your dependants.
A copy of this claim will be sent to you, along with information on where to obtain legal advice. You have the option to file a defence against a section 8 notice, and you can challenge the validity of either an 8 or 21. Now is also the time for you to provide your own statement about how Covid-19 has affected your life where relevant to the possession/eviction notice.
If you can prove that leaving your home will cause “extreme hardship”, you can ask the court to postpone the possession for up to 6 weeks.
The courts will contact you with a date for your review. This is when a judge will look at your case.
It is absolutely essential that you attend your review. This is when you can get free legal advice from the court duty solicitor. This solicitor will also try and help you reach a settlement with your landlord (who should also be present). If a settlement can be reached, you won’t have to go to court and the case can be resolved.
If a settlement between you and your landlord can’t be met, your case will go to a “full possession hearing”. This is when the judge will decide whether your eviction should take place. If the judge says the eviction can go ahead, you will be given a date by which you must leave the property.
If you don’t leave the property by the date provided, a warrant for possession can be issued which means county court bailiffs can come and evict you. When this warrant is issued, you will be given 14-days notice of the bailiffs’ arrival.
Today, however, bailiffs have been instructed to only execute evictions in the most serious cases. In full, the government press release says:
“Legislation is in place to ensure bailiffs do not serve eviction notices, except in the most serious circumstances. These circumstances are illegal occupation, false statement, anti-social behaviour, the eviction of perpetrators of domestic abuse in the social sector, where a property is unoccupied following death of a tenant and serious rent arrears of 6 months’ rent or more. The legislation will be extended until the end of 31 May 2021 and given that 14 days notice is required before an eviction can take place, no evictions are expected before mid-June except in the most serious circumstances.
“In Wales, subject to a periodic 3-week review, bailiffs are not allowed to enforce evictions until 31 March 2021, except in cases relating to, illegal occupation, anti-social behaviour, eviction of perpetrators of domestic abuse in the social sector where the victim is housed elsewhere and where the property is unoccupied following the death of a tenant. ”
For social housing tenants, there are some slight variations to this process. Read the guide for social tenants in full, here.