The Government has been accused of making it impossible for agents to navigate the uncertainty caused by the pandemic after unveiling yet another series of changes for the rental sector.
The Ministry of Housing yesterday afternoon confirmed that the law has been changed to increase notice periods to six months until at least the end of March 2021 to ensure tenants are still in their homes over Christmas and the winter.
The only exceptions are where landlords are seeking to evict tenants for anti-social behaviour or if they are more than six months in arrears, in which case the notice period will be four weeks.
A notice period of two weeks is required in cases of domestic abuse.
There will also be a ‘winter truce’ on the enforcement of evictions, with no evictions permitted in England and Wales in the run up to and over Christmas except in the most serious circumstances, such as cases involving anti-social behaviour or domestic abuse.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick also confirmed that evictions cannot be enforced by bailiffs in areas with a local lockdown.
Commenting on the change, Timothy Douglas, policy and campaigns Manager for ARLA Propertymark, said: “Over the past few weeks the Government has drip fed updates about evictions to the sector making it impossible for agents to respond and plan for the difficult months ahead.
“The UK Government is moving the goal posts, introducing measures that will be difficult for many to implement, including staying on top of rapidly changing local lockdowns.
“Whilst it looks like there will no further delays on the resumption of possession hearings, agents have profound concerns about investment in housing and this announcement offers no further support for the sector.
“The Government must now look at additional measures to provide direct finance to landlords and tenants to cover Covid-19 related arrears and help boost confidence in the sector as we head into the winter.”
It comes after a stay on eviction proceedings had already been announced in March until August 23 and was subsequently extended for another month.
The Ministry of Housing said that courts will start to hear possession hearings again from September 21.
These will prioritise cases involving anti-social behaviour and other crimes as well as extreme rent arrears where landlords would otherwise face unmanageable debts.
Landlords will also need to provide the courts and judges with information on how tenants have been affected by the pandemic.
Where this information is not provided, judges will be able to adjourn proceedings until the information is provided.
No cases from before August 3 will immediately proceed to hearing but will have to be ‘re-activated’ by the landlord and then subject to a new review hearing, at least four weeks before the substantive hearing.
Jenrick said: “We have protected renters during the pandemic by banning evictions for six months – the longest eviction ban in the UK.
“To further support renters we have increased notice periods to six months, an unprecedented measure to help keep people in their homes over the winter months.
“It’s right that we strike a balance between protecting vulnerable renters and ensuring landlords whose tenants have behaved in illegal or anti-social ways have access to justice.
“Our legislation means such cases will be subject to shorter notice periods and then prioritised through the judiciary’s new court processes.”