Courts Go Slow
By Nikki Coward
The main focus during the Coronavirus pandemic has been to protect residential tenants and to keep them in their homes for as long as possible; and quite rightly so. We must not forget that many tenants are faced with the prospect of losing their home through absolutely no fault of their own. Many have faced job losses or a significant cut in their income and yet are still bound by the terms of their tenancy agreement to pay their rent.
But the effect of the pandemic has been devastating on landlords as well as tenants – especially those who may a) rent to a troublesome tenant; b) rent to a tenant who was already in significant arrears or other breach of agreement or c) simply need to recover possession of the property so they can live in it themselves due to a change in their own personal circumstances.
PICTURE: Dave Young
Whilst some landlords have been able to reach an amicable solution with their tenants by agreeing a reduction in rent (and I have been involved in those successful discussions and agreements) there are cases where this has not been possible. Not all landlords have huge portfolios. Many landlords I act for have one additional property and rely upon the rent for their own income; indeed, many may have a mortgage on the property that still needs to be paid.
The changes in legislation and court rules have caused confusion for unrepresented parties. I know of some landlords who had served valid notices prior to the March 2020 lockdown but have been forced to start the procedure all over again, and are faced with the new extended notice period, because they didn’t realise that that they could still issue a claim in the Court, notwithstanding the stay of proceedings.
Although the stay was lifted on 20th September, a huge backlog of stayed claims and the anticipated rush of new claims have together been stemmed by additional court procedures deliberately designed, in my view, to relieve the pressure on the court – with the unavoidable consequence of unduly protracting the process. Those paying for legal representation will suffer substantially increased costs.
In the brief period until imposition of the second lockdown, the court bailiffs were already slow to undertake evictions. I obtained a possession order for a landlord in December 2019 (some four months prior to the first lockdown) where the arrears already exceeded one year and fell within the new ‘substantial rent arrears’ exception. I applied in November 2020 for the eviction to be carried out. I am still waiting for that application to be seen by a Judge. I have been calling the court every week for an update, but was recently informed that priority is now being given to reactivating stayed claims rather than enforcement of outstanding warrants of possession.
I cannot see the backlog of cases being cleared quickly, especially if new claims are being issued daily, and fear that we will be dealing with the fall-out for many months to come. As is so often the case, those who seek and obtain good legal advice from experts will be best able to navigate such turbulent waters.
• The writer is a partner of Hastings-based solicitors Heringtons.
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