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Evictions Appear to be back from 24 August6th July 2020 Commercial Litigation
The Housing and Communities minister in the House of Lords, Lord Greenhalgh appears to have confirmed that the stay on evictions will end on 24 August and that no further extension is planned.
The statement came in a written response to a question by Baroness Altmann. The Baroness had asked the government “what provisions are or will be in place to ensure that private landlords, who obtained a legal possession order prior to the suspension of evictions in March, are able to reclaim possession of their properties without further delay”. In reply the Minister stated that from “24 August 2020, the courts will begin to process possession cases again. This is an important step towards ending the lockdown and will protect landlords’ important right to regain their property.”
The previous extension on the possession stay had run until the end of June and had then been extended for two months. While this had the stay ending on 23 August and so there was an expectation that things would re-start on 24 August there was always the possibility of a further extension. This statement appears to rule out further extensions and make clear that the court will be hearing matters at full steam.
This will be welcome for landlords but this is not without problems.
There has been a lot of talk of a cliff edge of mass evictions for example. I cannot see this happening as the courts simply do not have the capacity to process a massive increase and in my experience most landlords will try to work with tenants to keep them in their homes. However, it seems likely that there will be a period of increased evictions as cases that would have gone to court over the last few months work through the system.
The other question is sparked by the second part of Lord Greenhalgh’s answer in which he stated that work “is underway … including new rules, to ensure that judges have all the information necessary to make just decisions and that the most vulnerable tenants can get the help they need when possession cases resume.” There has been talk of a new pre-action protocol for private landlords for example which seems likely to happen. The exact scope of this is uncertain. It could be relatively light touch and focus on ensuring that there have been efforts by landlords to engage with tenants as the current protocol for social landlords has done. Alternatively it could be far more intrusive and impose significant obligations.
The final question is how prepared the courts truly are for a re-opening on 24 August. There were already huge delays in parts of the possession process, especially in the appointment of county court bailiffs and there must be doubts about the ability of the courts to deal with the much larger backlog that has built up while also dealing with the more general slowing effect created by Covid-19.