News Blast – Residential Possessions (August)
We reported in June about changes to the residential possession procedure as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Last week the government implemented further changes and we look at the current rules below.
What has changed?
All possession proceedings begun under CPR 55 will be automatically stayed (frozen) until 20 September 2020.
Are all possession proceedings included?
CPR Part 55 includes most residential and commercial possession but there are a number of key exceptions to the stay:
- Claims for possession against trespassers to which CPR 55.6 applies.
- Applications for interim possession orders pursuant to Section III CPR 55.
- Applications for case management directions agreed by all parties.
- Claims for injunctive relief.
Note that all enforcement proceedings seeking to enforce orders for possession by way of way of warrants or writs of possession (bailiff action) are also now stayed until 20 September 2020.
What happens when the stay is lifted?
Landlords will need to follow the new CPR Practice Direction 55C.
- To continue a frozen claim that was issued before 3 August 2020:
- They will need to file and serve a 'Reactivation Notice' confirming that they wish it to be progressed.
- Except in proceedings relating to an appeal, the 'Reactivation Notice' must also set out what is known about the effect of the Coronavirus pandemic on the Defendant and their dependents.
- For new claims (brought on or after 23 August 2020) and for stayed claims brought on or after 3 August 2020:
- Landlords must serve a notice on the Defendant setting out what knowledge he/she has as to the effect of the Coronavirus pandemic on the Defendant and their Defendants not less than 14 days before the possession hearing.
- They must bring two copies of that notice to the possession hearing.
- For new accelerated possession claims (brought on or after 23 August 2020) and for stayed claims brought on or after 3 August 2020:
- The Landlord mist file with the Claim form for service with it a notice setting out what knowledge he or she has as to the effect of the Coronavirus pandemic on the Defendant and their dependents.
How are the Courts going to prioritise possession claims once the stay is lifted?
As case listing and prioritisation is a judicial function we are told that the Master of the Rolls' Working Group on possession is working with the government to consider the categories of serious cases that will be prioritised when hearings resume.
Further details will be set out in due course but in last Friday's announcement it was announced that, "when Courts do resume eviction hearings they will carefully prioritise the most egregious cases, ensuring landlords are able to progress the most serious cases, such as those involving anti-social behaviour and other crimes, as well as where landlords have not received rent for over a year and would otherwise face unmanageable debts."
It is clearly envisaged that domestic violence and anti-social behaviour related together with serious rent arrears cases will be prioritised.
Will there be any other changes to the possession process in the near future?
Wholesale changes to the residential possession process, such as the abolition of the Section 21 process, appear to be on hold for now but the Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick MP has announced plans to extend the notice period tenants must receive before possession proceedings can be started.
As it stands, any notice to quit or possession notice served before 30 September 2020 must give three months' notice but this is likely to be extended to six months shortly after Parliament returns from the summer recess on 1 September 2020.
Section 21 notices currently only remain valid for six months, so it will be interesting to see what associated changes are made to this regime alongside an extension to the notice period itself and we will keep you updated.
Sarah Heatley is an Associate in the Property Litigation team.
The current global crisis is evolving rapidly, and the rules and guidance for individuals, companies and other entities to manage its implications are similarly fast moving. Notes such as this may be out of date almost as soon as they are published. If you have any questions prompted by this article or on any other matter relevant to you, please get in touch with your usual contact at Forsters.