Hayley Bamber, of Harrison Drury’s property litigation team, explains what landlords need to be aware of after the introduction of new legislation and updated Practice Direction 55C.
On 26 March, 2020, coinciding with the start of the COVID-19 lockdown, Practice Direction 51Z was issued and a ‘stay’ was imposed on almost all possession proceedings and enforcement action until at least the 25 June, 2020. On 5 June, 2020, the stay was extended to the 23 August, 2020.
Due to a recent update with Practice Direction 55C (PD 55C), further provisions must now be satisfied before landlords are able to get possession proceedings reactivated, prioritised and back into the court.
The New Rules
Landlords need to be aware that where claims were issued before lockdown, PD 55C states that no stayed claim is to be listed, re-listed, heard or referred to a judge until one of the parties files and serves a Reactivation Notice once the stay is lifted.
The key date for landlords to note is Monday, 3 August, 2020. Landlords who brought claims for possession on or before this date are required to serve a Reactivation Notice with the tenant to notify them of the landlord’s intention to proceed.
There is no prescribed form yet, however, paragraphs 2.3, 2.4 and 5.1 stipulate what the Notice must include to validate the proposal. This includes, but is not limited to, knowledge of how the defendant and any dependants have been affected by coronavirus and for possession on grounds of rent arrears, rent accounts for the previous two years.
COVID-19 has resulted in a severe court backlog of possession claims. PD 55C currently makes no provision for prioritisation of cases.
As a result, what is currently in the works is a Prioritisation Proposal, which is trying to devise a set of rules on how cases can be handled in a timely, appropriate manner.
At the moment, the following cases are prioritised over claims issued before the stay:
- Allegations of anti-social behaviour
- Extreme arrears accrued pre-pandemic
- Squatting and/or unknown persons residing at the property
- Domestic violence if registered social landlord and where possession is in the victim’s interest
- Allegations of fraud or deception
- Allegations of unlawful subletting
As a result, there will be a severe backlog of cases for the court to process once the stay is lifted. The results will inevitably vary from case to case as to how long they will wait for a hearing date.
Prepare now or possession claims will continue to be stayed
What has been made clear by the new rules is that the court will take no action, once the stay is lifted, unless the Reactivation Notice requirements are complied.
Landlords need to be taking action now to prepare if they want to press on and file and serve valid Reactivation Notices from the 24 August, 2020, for their claim to be prioritised.
In summary, there is a great deal of pressure now placed on landlords who wish to reclaim their properties regardless of their grounds. Landlords should expect greater emphasis on Pre-Action Protocol and engagement with tenants and a failure to make relevant enquiries into the tenant’s circumstances on the effects of COVID-19 will not be taken lightly by the court.
It is critical for landlords who manage residential properties to follow the correct procedures to activate possession claims. Harrison Drury’s property litigation team can offer guidance and advice on the best course of action. Contact us on 01772 258321 to discuss your landlord and tenant matters.