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Evictions update: the latest rules.

While evictions are still relatively rare, this is an area of lettings law that has undergone the most change during the coronavirus pandemic.

Given the discussions and consultations that have taken place over the last few years in relation to abolishing Section 21 notices in England and Wales, it comes as little surprise that the rules have shifted in favour of tenants.

Under the current rules across the UK, for most evictions landlords must give six months’ notice, which the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG, England) says is “an important protection to all tenants”, giving them a reasonable amount of time to find alternative accommodation.

The latest change is an extension of the suspension of bailiff activity in relation to enforcing possession orders, including the serving of any 14-day notices. This was originally brought in to cover the Christmas period, from 11th December to 11th January, then extended to 21st February, then to the 31st  March and it’s now been extended again until 31st May. This is to ensure that tenants are protected from eviction during the national lockdown period.

Be assured that if your tenant has seriously breached their tenancy agreement or broken the law in another way, this suspension on eviction action may not apply. Examples include anti-social or criminal behaviour, or domestic abuse. In England, it is also possible to begin eviction proceedings if your tenant has rent arrears greater than six months’ rent.

What can you do if you need to serve notice?

You can serve your tenant with a notice of eviction at any time. If they have breached their tenancy agreement and it satisfies one of the relevant grounds, you can serve a Section 8; if it is for another reason, you can serve a Section 21, although the notice period you must give them currently stands at six months.

If the tenant doesn’t leave, you can escalate the eviction to the court system, which is currently open for possession hearings and possession orders are being granted, although bear in mind there is likely to be a significant backlog, so it’s almost certainly going to take longer than in normal circumstances. The current process is that landlords are given 21 days’ notice of a ‘review date’, on which they must be available for a telephone meeting with their tenant (and/or their representatives) to see whether an out-of-court settlement can be reached. 14 days before the review date, the landlord must provide evidence to the court, then, based on the evidence and the review, the court will decide whether to proceed to a hearing.

Eviction specialists estimate cases will probably take a minimum of six months or more to progress through the courts, although the most serious cases – such as those involving anti-social behaviour, domestic violence and, in England, rent arrears of more than six months – are being prioritised.

Unfortunately, if the tenant still refuses to leave, that’s where landlords are hitting a wall right now because bailiffs are not doing any physical eviction work. And it’s important to know that, regardless of whether you have been granted a possession order, you yourself are not allowed to remove your tenant – only a bailiff can legally do that.

Try to reach an out-of-court agreement

In light of the fact that it could take a year or more to get rid of a tenant, consider trying to come to an agreement before taking formal eviction action. As well as it being a potentially lengthy and costly process, there are strict legal stipulations for when and how paperwork is issued and if you get anything wrong, the court could declare the eviction invalid, meaning you have to begin the process all over again.

If we manage your property, be assured that if there are any problems with the tenancy, an experienced member of the team will communicate and negotiate with you and your tenant