Coronavirus Act 2020: restrictions on terminating residential tenancies

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The Coronavirus Act 2020 was enacted on 25 March 2020. It contains emergency legislation designed to help society cope with the coronavirus outbreak. It includes restrictions on the ability for landlords to terminate both residential and commercial tenancies.

This note focuses on the restrictions on terminating residential tenancies.  Our note on commercial tenancies can be accessed through this link.

The key changes and their application to residential tenancies

The notice period for certain statutory notices which act as a precursor to possession proceedings is extended to at least three months. The Secretary of State has the power to extend this period by up to a further three months.

It impacts on the following tenancies:

  • protected tenancies and statutory tenancies under the Rent Act 1977
  • secure tenancies and flexible tenancies under the Housing Act 1985
  • assured tenancies and assured shorthold tenancies under the Housing Act 1988
  • introductory tenancies and demoted tenancies introduced by the Housing Act 1996

For example, a landlord’s notice under section 8 of the Housing Act 1988 gives notice of the landlord’s intention to commence possession proceedings in relation to an assured tenancy.  In cases where the rent arrears exceed the threshold for the mandatory ground for possession, the minimum notice period is extended from two weeks to three months.

For section 21 notices requiring the tenant to give up possession of an assured shorthold tenancy, the notice period is extended from two months to three months.

In the context of statutory tenancies under the Rent Act 1977 only, the landlord may not commence possession proceedings in relation to an existing notice unless it has given at least three months’ notice (subject to dispensation by the court where it is just and equitable to do so).

Exceptions?

The changes do not apply to certain occupancies, including tenancies without security of tenure (such as certain tenancies at a low rent) or licences (such as student accommodation in halls of residence).

It is also important to note that the legislation is not retrospective.  It does not apply to notices served before the Act came into force, therefore, except under the Rent Act 1977 for notices of less than three months.

Having said that, court proceedings are still necessary and the courts have adjourned all possession hearings and all proceedings seeking to enforce an order for possession until 23 August 2020.

In summary, these changes result in the postponement of possession for residential tenancies.

Tellingly, the rent and other sums due under the tenancies remain payable.  The legislation might simply postpone the unavoidable for many residential tenants, therefore, rather than give wholesale relief from the liability to pay rent during these difficult times.  It appears that the Government wishes to address that aspect through indirect measures such as income support.

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