Landlords will have to re-activate their stalled possession claims

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New court rules will require landlords who have issued possession proceedings that have been suspended during the coronavirus crisis, to reactivate their notices if they wish to go ahead with the action.

The Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 4) (Coronavirus) Rules 2020, coming into force the day before courts re-open for possession claims on 24 August, introduce a ‘temporary Practice Direction’ (PD55C) that: 

  • Requires claimants who wish to continue proceedings after the coronavirus stay on evictions, to provide a ‘reactivation notice’ informing the court (and the defendant) in writing of this. Unless this is done the case will remain dormant.
  • Requires the claimant, where the claim includes non-payment of rent, to set out what knowledge (if any) he or she has of the effect of the Coronavirus pandemic on the defendant and his or her dependants.
  • Suspends the ‘usual’ target of eight weeks between issue of a claim form and a hearing.
  • ‘Encourages’ claimants to produce full arrears histories in advance of, rather than at the hearing.

PD55C is due to expire on the 28 March 2021. However, ‘given the temporary and urgent nature of the changes’, no immediate amendment is to be made to existing possession proceedings forms, meaning landlords will have to devise their own means of compliance.

Besides the new Statutory Instrument, the Government has updated its

Coronavirus Act 2020 and renting Technical guidance for landlords.

Both are non-statutory advice, but both remind landlords that most will not be able to start possession proceedings unless they have given their tenants three-months’ notice. And they reiterate that: ‘We strongly advise landlords not to commence or continue possession proceedings during this challenging time without a very good reason to do so. It is essential that we work together during these unprecedented times to keep each other safe’.

The National Residential Landlords’ Association said it welcomed the new rules and advice since they encouraged landlords and tenants to consider mediation.

‘Ultimately, this confirms much of what we already knew’, said NRLA policy director Chris Norris. ‘When the courts re-open there will be a backlog, cases will take longer than usual to progress, and it will be even more important than ever to follow procedures to the letter.  

‘That said there are a few outstanding questions. Although landlords will be required to provide any information they have about their tenant’s experience of coronavirus, there is no indication of how the courts will use the information.

‘Also there is no detail about how, or in what form a reactivation notice should be served. The NRLA is working to answer both of these points with the ministries of justice and housing respectively.  

‘On the positive side, it is further confirmation that possession cases will resume after 23 August offering a faint reassurance to those landlords who have been struggling with long-term arrears since March’.

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