ARLA Propertymark has written to housing minister Chris Pincher to plead with the government not to U-turn again on its promise to re-start possession hearings again on Monday.
“It is vital that the courts begin hearing cases again as soon as possible so that those who choose not to pay or are guilty of unacceptable behaviour, face justice,” the letter says.
ARLA Propertymark has repeatedly raised the issue that tenant arrears incurred prior to the Coronavirus pandemic are unrelated to the outbreak and should be treated separately.
“In addition, further last-minute announcements delaying the courts from reopening and extending notice periods, fail to consider the practical implications and knock-on effects for agents as businesses who manage multiple tenancies,” it says.
In the meantime, HM Courts & Tribunals Services has revealed how it plans to cope when the stay on possession claims if indeed it does end on Sunday, including changes that letting agents will have to observe to successfully eject tenants from properties.
This follows a working group on possession proceedings headed up by the Master of the Rolls Terence Etherton, including new procedures many of which are designed to help manage the expected wave of reactivated and new possession claims in the coming weeks and months.
It has been revealed that landlords have until January 24th to reactivate stayed possession claims using two non-mandatory Reactivation Notices – one for the landlord, the other for the tenant.
As before, these ask letting agents and landlords to find out as much information about a tenant’s financial circumstances in relation to Covid, and give the reason for the claim, so it can be prioritised including those claims issued before Covid kicked off.
These include anti-social behaviour, rent arrears of more than 12 months’ rent or nine months’ rent that is more than 25% of a landlords overall income. Others include squatting, domestic violence, fraud/deception, illegal subletting and property abandonment.
Except in accelerated possession claims, letting agents and landlords will be given an initial ‘review date’ for new and stayed claims of 21 days. Then, 14 days beforehand, they must provide all the written evidence in written or electronic form and then, on the review date, be available for a telephone conference with the tenant or their advisor, after which the court will make a decision, which may be followed by a more substantive hearing 28 days later.
The new guidance reveals that a new voluntary mediation pilot is to be conducted to facilitate a pre-hearing agreement between landlord/letting agent and tenant, which will be provided by an independent provider jointly funded by the Ministry of Housing and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ).
Accelerate possession claims
If issued before 3rd August 2020 these will now require a Reactivation Notice as with all other stayed claims and be subject to the same prioritisation which, along with other measures, are designed help manage workflow.