Since 27 March 2020, all but a very few possession claims and proceedings have been stayed pursuant to an amendment to the Court’s Civil Procedure Rules brought in under Practice Direction 51Z. This temporary stay of possession claims was brought in by the Government in response to Covid-19 and the need to afford residential tenants temporary protection during the current crisis.
The Government has now announced further changes to the Court’s procedural rules to start to gradually lift the general stay on possession claims. From 23 August 2020, the new Practice Direction 55C will come into force which sets out how residential possession claims can be resumed.
The resumption of possession claims will come as welcome news for most residential landlords. However, whilst the temporary stay introduced in March ends on 23 August 2020, landlords will still have to comply with the new Practice Direction for all new claims issued on or after 3 August 2020 and in relation to ‘reactivating’ previously stayed claims.
The key feature of this new Practice Direction 55C is that landlords will be required to file and serve a notice at Court and the tenant setting out what knowledge they have of how the tenant or their dependents have been affected by Covid-19. In the case of claims brought before 3 August 2020, which have been stayed, the notice will need to be filed and served to ‘reactivate’ the claim.
At this stage, it is not completely clear as to how compliance with the new notice will affect the possession claim itself. For example, if a landlord states that a tenant has been adversely affected by the pandemic, there is only limited discretion for a judge to refrain from granting a landlord a mandatory possession order for section 21 and/or section 8 claims where applicable. It may well be judges stay, or extend, the period for possession to the maximum possible to assist tenants in difficulty, but beyond that, it is very unknown at this stage how the Court will respond to these new notices.
Cases where a final possession order has already been obtained appear to be unaffected by Practice Direction 55C. In these cases, it appears that the landlord can proceed to apply for an eviction appointment when the stay is lifted after 23 August.
The explanatory notes to the Civil Procedure (Amendment No. 4) (Coronavirus) Rules 2020 state that landlords ‘will be required to demonstrate that they have engaged with their tenants in an effort to find a solution before making a claim’.
It seems the best course of action before issuing a fresh claim after 3 August is for a landlord to try and find out the effect the Coronavirus may have had on the tenant and their dependents, so they can show compliance to the court.
What is clear is that landlords can still expect to see delays for residential possession claims in the near future and they should do everything they can to comply with the spirit of the new Practice Direction.
We are in somewhat unchartered territory here with a court system dealing with a huge backlog of possession cases, coupled with implementing new (somewhat ambiguous rules).
If you have any questions about this or any other property litigation matter, please call contact John Spence, Partner, on tel: 01892 515022 JS@cooperburnett.com or Lee Quickenden, Associate Legal Executive, on tel: 01892 515022 firstname.lastname@example.org
This blog is not intended as legal advice that can be relied upon and CooperBurnett does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of its contents.