Letting agents and landlords in England have been warned that the Government’s ambiguous possession claims practice direction could cause unwelcome delays to evictions.
Residential property lawyer George Cohen at Irwin Mitchell says a lack of guidance means agents and landlords can’t be certain about what judges will do if a notice confirms that a tenant has been affected by COVID-19.
And while there’s an obligation for agents to inform the court about the tenant’s circumstances relating to COVID-19, they aren’t required to get this information. He says that while it’s been suggested that agents could just specify in their notice that the tenant’s circumstances are simply unknown, this would be a risky strategy.
Adds Cohen (left): “We predict that judges may decide to stay proceedings where a tenant or their dependants have been affected by COVID-19. Similarly, judges could order a stay if the landlord states that the tenant’s circumstances are unknown.”
The new practice direction comes into force on 23rd August when landlords must file and serve a notice setting out what knowledge they have of how the tenant or their dependants have been affected.
Irwin Mitchell says that if they have, landlords and their agents should consider whether they can agree a mutually beneficial compromise which would avoid the need for proceedings to be issued or resumed.
“If the tenant ignores a landlord’s request for information, or refuses to engage, [they] should keep a record of their attempts and provide them to the court,” says Cohen.
If a landlord doesn’t do this, or where a tenant has been affected by COVID-19, Cohen predicts the court may stay the proceedings further to give the tenant some breathing space.
He adds: “We hope that the obligations on landlords will be clarified in due course. What is clear is that landlords can still expect to see delays for residential possession claims in the near future.”