Courts Stay Possession Claims for 90 Days
On 27 March a new Practice Direction staying possession claims for 90 days during the Coronavirus pandemic came into force. The practice direction follows the emergency provisions relating to residential tenancies contained in the Coronavirus Act 2020 and prevents the making of and enforcement of possession orders for 90 days.
The Practice Direction 51Z (PD) applies to all proceedings brought under CPR 55. This is very broad and applies not only to residential tenants (including common law tenants) but also licensees, former licensees who no longer have a right to occupy and borrowers seeking possession by their mortgage lender. The Practice Direction provides protection to a much wider range of residential occupiers than the Coronavirus Act. It would also apply to proceedings commenced under CPR 55 against commercial tenants. The Practice Direction expressly states that the stay does not apply to claims for injunctive relief.
The Practice Direction also puts a hold on proceedings seeking to enforce orders for possession by warrant or writ of possession. While many bailiffs were cancelling appointments before the Practice Direction came into force, this blanket stay will provide comfort to many tenants and other occupiers fearing imminent evictions. Landlords who have possession orders will not be able to enforce them for several months. It is not clear whether the Courts will return requests for warrants that are submitted during this time or whether they will be added to a queue, ready to be actioned once the emergency is over. Landlords have up to 6 years from the date of the possession order to issue a warrant. Where warrants have already been issued and bailiff appointments scheduled these will be cancelled and placed on hold. Warrants must be executed within 1 year of their issue date, otherwise an application has to be made for the warrant to be renewed.
Landlords who have already served section 21 notices may be concerned that they will lose their right to commence a claim under the ‘use it or lose it’ provisions that require the landlord to commence a claim within 6 months of service of the notice. Presumably the Court will continue to issue new possession claims during this time even if the claims are then immediately stayed. The Government’s recent Technical Guidance on Eviction Notices advises landlords against commencing possession proceedings during this challenging time without a very good reason to do so. Protectively issuing a section 21 claim at Court to prevent it from becoming time-barred may be acceptable particularly as the claim will then be automatically stayed and the tenant will not face imminent eviction. Otherwise landlords may have to consider serving fresh notices seeking possession. Of course any new notice served now will have to give a minimum of 3 months’ notice to comply with the extended notice provisions in the Coronavirus Act.
As with the new provisions in the Coronavirus Act, the Practice Direction is temporary, designed to meet the exceptional circumstances we currently find ourselves in. It will cease to have effect on 30 October 2020.
*Disclaimer: The information on the Anthony Gold website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. It is provided without any representations or warranties, express or implied.*