Coronavirus Act: residential tenancies and protection from eviction

The Coronavirus Act 2020 brings into force special measures to assist residential tenants. We have set out below the key changes to assured shorthold tenancies. Assured shorthold tenancies, or “ASTs”, are the most common form of occupational residential tenancies currently in use in the UK. ASTs are the form of tenancy normally used in the private rented sector including build to rent schemes. In the Act and this note, “relevant period” means the period from and including 26 March 2020 and ending on 30 September 2020.

Under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, to recover possession of a dwelling-house let on an AST for a fixed term on or after expiry of the contractual term, landlords are required to give tenants not less than two months’ notice in writing stating that they require possession of the dwelling-house. If such a notice is served a court is required to make an order for possession.

There is an equivalent provision in respect of an AST which is a periodic tenancy, provided that the date specified in the notice is not earlier than the earliest date the periodic tenancy could be terminated by a notice to quit served by the landlord.

The Coronavirus Act ("the Act") now requires any landlord who is serving a notice under section 21 during the relevant period to provide tenants with not less than three months’ notice in writing stating that possession of the dwelling-house is required. A longer notice period may still be required when terminating a periodic tenancy.

The Act also changes the notice periods if the landlord wishes to obtain possession pursuant to section 8 of the Housing Act 1988 (which allows a landlord to obtain possession during the contractual term on fault grounds). The Act provides that the minimum notice period for notices served pursuant to section 8 is now three months.

The Act also grants the Secretary of State the power (by regulations made by statutory instrument) to amend the Act in order to increase the minimum three month notice period to six months or any other specified period which is less than six months.

What is an assured shorthold tenancy?

A tenancy of a dwelling-house let as a separate dwelling to an individual who occupies the house as his/her only or principal home which is entered into on or after 28 February 1997 under which the rent is neither more than £100,000 a year nor less than £250 a year (£1,000 a year in London).

Does the Act prevent landlords serving notices for recovery of possession during the relevant period?

No, landlords may still serve notice on tenants under assured shorthold tenancies for recovery of possession on expiry or termination of that tenancy during the relevant period, provided that they give the tenant not less than three months’ notice in writing stating that possession of the property is required.

Does the Act invalidate notices that have been served prior to the relevant period giving tenants two months’ notice in writing of recovery of possession?

Any notices which have been validly served in accordance with current statutory requirements prior to the enactment of this Act will be enforceable during the relevant period. The amendments under the Act will only affect notices served during the relevant period.

However, if a tenant does not vacate the premises then in order to actually obtain possession a court order is required to evict a tenant. The Ministry of Housing, Community and Local Government have said:

“Clear guidance has been given to judges and bailiffs, meaning that it is highly unlikely that any possession proceedings will continue during this period. If there is evidence that this is not the case, we have the power to review accordingly.”

There are similar provisions that deal in detail with alternative types of residential tenancy; please let us know if you would like further information on alternative types of tenancies.