In recent months, Friday afternoons have no longer signalled the end of a long week and the upcoming respite of a weekend break. Instead, the end of the week tends to mean an unexpected housing announcement from government. On 21 August, the government kicked off the weekend by announcing a four-week extension to the eviction ban – despite weeks and months of insistence that courts would reopen on the 24 August. Then on 28 August, the government introduced new rules that seek to give renters more protection and – it hopes – prevent a wave of evictions before Christmas.
Between suspensions, extensions, Statutory Instruments, and new court rules, it’s been hard to keep up with where renters currently stand. This blog will explain the new changes and what renters can expect as we prepare for the eviction ban to lift on 20 September.
Six-month notice periods
The headline change is that almost all renters will be entitled to six months’ notice if their landlord wants them out.
In normal times, private renters get just two months’ notice under a Section 21 ‘no-fault’ eviction notice. The Coronavirus Act 2020 extended this to three months, so any renter served with a Section 21 between 26 March and 28 August will have a month longer in their property before they are meant to leave.
Those served a Section 21 notice from 29 August will have an additional three months (a total of six months) to find somewhere new to live, or negotiate with their landlord to stay in their home for the long term.
The changes also apply to Section 8 of the Housing Act 1988 – the laws that are used to evict some private tenants and most social tenants. The landlord has to give a reason for eviction if they use Section 8, and the new six-month rule applies to most reasons why a landlord would want to evict.
This change buys renters more time – which is welcome – but it still doesn’t provide the long-term solutions that renters need to avoid evictions related to coronavirus (COVID-19). Renters with up to six-months’ arrears will be entitled to six-months’ notice – but it’s important that government makes funds available to pay down arrears to ensure people can stay in their homes longer-term.
But there are a few exemptions which mean that some renters will have less notice before their landlord can apply to court. These include renters with ‘serious’ rent arrears (defined as owing more than six months’ rent) and those accused of anti-social behaviour (ASB) or domestic violence. These are considered to be the most urgent cases.
Those with serious rent arrears will be entitled to four weeks’ notice (less than they would have under the Coronavirus Act initially, but more than the two weeks’ notice that normally applies where a renter has at least eight weeks’ worth of arrears’), whereas those accused of ASB or domestic violence will generally receive four and two weeks’ notice respectively.
|Type of eviction notice||Pre-26 March||26 March – 28 August||29 August – 30 March|
|Section 21||Two months||Three months||Six months|
|Section 8 – rent arrears over eight weeks||Two weeks||Three months||Six months (if under six months’ arrears) Four weeks (if over six months’ arrears)|
|Section 8 – ASB||Four weeks||Three months||Four weeks|
|Section 8 – domestic violence||Two weeks||Three months||Two weeks|
When courts reopen on 20 September, those most urgent cases will be prioritised – even if the landlord served a notice under the old rules before 29 August. For renters being evicted by a Section 21, or for less serious tenancy breaches, it’s likely to be many months before their cases are listed.
These new changes will undeniably give renters breathing space. However, there are a few pitfalls to this latest change – and the government must be alert to some of its likely unintended consequences.
It’s complicated: landlords will have to pay close attention to the new rules – as well as stick to the old ones. Failure to do so could lead to further delays in the court system. A simpler solution, like making mandatory grounds for possession discretionary, would have been simpler to administer and clearer for landlords and tenants alike.
It will frustrate bad landlords: while responsible landlords will wait for a possession order and bailiff warrant before evicting their tenant, we are already seeing reports of harassment and illegal eviction by landlords who are fed up of waiting.
Renters will still be in debt: renters risk being lumbered with a huge amount of debt if they are eventually evicted with up to six months’ rent arrears. That’s why we are calling on the government to make funds available for people who have fallen into rent debt because of the pandemic.
The Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has not taken the actions necessary to fulfil his promise to ensure no renter is evicted because of coronavirus, but these changes will remove the immediate threat of eviction for many. To fulfil his promise, further legislation would be required, as well as financial intervention.
We now eagerly await the Renters’ Reform Bill so that we can address the fundamental problems in our broken private rented system.
If you are facing eviction or are worried about harassment, please get in touch with us for advice and support.