On 18th March 2020, the Government issued a press release stating that emergency legislation would be introduced to “suspend new evictions from social or private rented accommodation while this national emergency is taking place” and “no new possession proceedings through applications to the court to start during the crisis”.
The Coronavirus Act (“the Act”) entered into force on 25 March 2020. The Act refers to a relevant period within which these provisions will apply. That period is defined as beginning on 26 March 2020 and ending on 30 September 2020.
The Act applies to a variety of tenancies: Protected and Statutory; Secured; Flexible; Assured; Assured Shorthold; Introductory; and Demoted. For all these the Act extends the notice period for commencing possession proceedings to three months.
The three-month notice period can be extended to up to six months, but not above six months. This period can be changed multiple times.
A possible issue with this variation is that if the notice period is changed to six months, there is no provision for varying notices already served using the three-month period. It seems likely that such a notice would still be valid. In that case, proceedings would commence at the end of the three-month period but would still be within the now six-month notice period.
During the three-month notice period, any rent arrears that accrue can still be used as grounds for possession proceedings once the relevant period comes to an end. The Act merely changes when these proceedings can take place. Tenants who have lost their income due to the crisis will still be the subject of a possession claim.
This is particularly notable as the Act provides a solution to this issue for business tenancies. For the purposes of making out the ground of persistent delay in paying rent which has become due under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954, any failure to pay rent during the relevant period is to be disregarded.
On top of this, the Act makes no provision for notices validly served prior to the passage of the Act. A notice validly served prior to the Act becoming law will be valid and will lead to new proceedings during the relevant period. Some of which, no doubt, will have been caused by the Coronavirus crisis. This is, of course, subject to Courts being able to hear such claims.