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Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Property and coronavirus

In this section you'll find information and updates related to coronavirus that are relevant to the laws on property.

The UK's response to coronavirus is changing regularly and often very quickly. While we'll continue to make every effort to keep this page up to date, there may be short periods where what you read here is not the latest information available. Where possible we've tried to provide links to official sources, so you can check the current situation.

Business leases

Eviction freeze

Business tenants are temporarily protected from eviction due to unpaid rent.

If you're struggling to pay rent, discuss the situation with your landlord – be sure to put anything that you both agree in writing.

England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Landlords of commercial properties in England, Wales and Northern Ireland cannot use their right of re-entry or claim forfeiture for non-payment of rent and cannot enforce current court claims. This applies to all businesses until 25 March 2022.

In England and Wales, landlords also cannot use commercial rent arrears recovery (a statutory procedure that allows landlords of commercial leases to recover rent arrears by taking control of their tenant's goods and selling them), until a certain number of days' net rent is owed to them. As a result of the pandemic, this number of days has increased several times. From 25 March 2021, it is 457 days. It will increase again on 24 June 2021 to 554 days. It's due to return to normal from 25 March 2022.

Scotland

Landlords cannot use their right to claim irritancy for non-payment of rent until 31 March 2022. Any notice served must give 14 weeks' (not 14 days') notice.

Other commercial landlord restrictions

There are temporary measures in place that further limit the options available to landlords of commercial property. For more on this, see our Coronavirus (COVID-19) Debts and debt recovery section.

Code of practice

The UK government has issued a code of practice for dealing with commercial debts built up over the pandemic.

It applies throughout the UK to rent debts (including service charges and insurance) accrued since March 2020 due to forced closures or restrictions.

The key aims of the code are to:

  • Prevent viable tenant businesses from closing – but not at the expense of the landlord's solvency or by having to take on more debt or restructure.
  • Provide guidance on how the parties should approach negotiations, with the intention that they should, if possible, resolve rent disputes before new arbitration legislation is in force (see below) – this requires both parties to be transparent and to act reasonably and responsibly.
  • Help the parties consider how affordable any debt relief will be – they should provide documents evidencing it. There's a non-exhaustive list of factors to consider when assessing how much the tenant can afford to pay.
  • Require the parties to consider whether they have the means and ability to meet their obligations and to continue trading despite the current (or any future) rent debts.

The code states that tenants should meet their obligations under the lease in full and without delay, if they can afford it. Any agreements made before the code should continue to be honoured.

Arbitration (England, Wales and possibly Northern Ireland)

From 25 March 2022 (or earlier, depending on when the relevant legislation is passed and in force), a legally binding arbitration process will be introduced in England and Wales. This will be the only way for commercial landlords and tenants to resolve covid-related rent debts if they aren't able to reach an agreement on their own using the code of practice. Northern Ireland will have the power to make similar legislation.

It's proposed that this will apply to rent debts that accrued between 21 March 2020 and the last date that specific restrictions were lifted from the tenant's business sector (not guidance or other generally applicable rules). This differs for each UK nation. Rent debts that accrued outside of this window can be pursued in the usual ways once current restrictions are lifted.

Currently, the arbitration process won't apply to businesses that chose to close because it was uneconomical to stay open. It will apply to businesses that have since closed but were trading during the above window.

The window to apply for arbitration will open when the legislation comes into force, and close 6 months later. This period includes an initial pre-application stage where:

1. Either party can notify the other that they intend to pursue arbitration and include a proposal for settlement (and any appropriate documentary evidence of affordability).

2. The other party can then either accept the proposal or make a counterproposal (again, supported by documentary evidence).

3. If there's a counterproposal, the other party gets time to consider it.

If the matter remains unresolved:

1. Either party can send an arbitration application (for a fee) – this must include the above notifications, a proposal for resolution and relevant supporting evidence.

2. The other party will have 14 days to submit their own proposal, together with any supporting evidence.

3. The arbitration will be heard at a public hearing, if asked for. Otherwise, it will be considered by the arbitrator based on the documentation provided. The arbitrator's decision will be legally binding with a maximum timeframe to repay of 24 months.

The government encourages landlords and tenants to negotiate their own agreement where possible, instead of resorting to the arbitration process.

While arbitration is in progress, any other available remedies will be temporarily withdrawn.

Residential tenancies

Changes to court rules for possession claims (England & Wales)

Due to the pandemic, most claims for possession and claims to enforce possession orders were 'stayed' (paused).

Temporary court rules were introduced to allow landlords to resume these claims. These rules remain in place for all claims that were started before 1 December 2021.

For claims started on or after 1 December 2021, the court procedure rules are – mostly – back to the pre-pandemic position.

For example:

  • Cases are scheduled based on when the claim was made, rather than prioritised based on the circumstances.
  • Review hearings (and the preparation needed before attending them) are no longer required.

The one matter that remains from the temporary court rules is that you must still send a Notice of the effect that the coronavirus pandemic has had on the tenants.

Notice of the effect that the coronavirus pandemic has had on the tenant

This is a written notice stating what you know about the effect that the coronavirus pandemic has had on the tenant and any of their dependants (i.e. children or other people in their care). You'll need to provide it in the following situations, even if there are no effects or if you haven't been able to find out.

  • At any possession hearing (i.e. under the section 8 or section 21 procedure) – you must bring 2 copies of the notice to the hearing, and give a copy to the tenant at least 14 days before the hearing.
  • When sending a new claim to the court using the accelerated (section 21) possession procedure.

Note: Government COVID-19 possession process guidance says that you should also send this notice when starting a new claim with claim forms N5 and N119 (i.e. having previously sent the tenant a section 8 notice). However, this advice contradicts the official court procedure rules, so it's unclear if you strictly need to send it in this situation or how the court will react if you don't. It will be safer to send it anyway, as there's no harm in doing so.

The notice is required for any claim issued until at least 30 June 2022. You can use our document Possession claim notice: effect of the coronavirus pandemic on the tenant to create the notice.

Government guidance

The government has issued guidance for landlords for possession claims and the new court procedure. It includes information such as how long the court process may take, what to do if your tenant is in rent arrears or engaged in anti-social behaviour, and what you need for a possession hearing and the possible outcomes.

Pre-action requirements for rent arrears claims (Scotland)

Where tenants are in rent arrears, new regulations require landlords to take certain steps before raising claims for possession or applying for eviction orders. The requirements will apply where the landlord has raised proceedings at, or made an application to, the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland on or after 6 October 2020.

Required information

You must give the tenants clear information about:

  • The terms of the tenancy agreement;
  • The total amount of rent arrears;
  • Their rights regarding claims for eviction or possession (including these pre-action requirements); and
  • How they can access information and advice on financial support and debt management.

Required action

You must make reasonable efforts to agree with the tenant a payment plan for the arrears and future payments. You must also reasonably consider:

  • Any steps they take that may affect their ability to pay the rent arrears within a reasonable time;
  • The extent to which they've complied with the terms of the agreed payment (if any); and
  • Any changes to their circumstances that are likely to impact the extent to which they comply with the terms of a payment plan.

Notice period extensions

England and Wales

Due to the pandemic, temporary measures have forced landlords to give tenants extra notice when sending them section 8 notices or section 21 notices. These measures ended in England on 1 October 2021.

In Wales, these measures are due to end on 31 December 2021 (having been extended from 30 September).

Section 8 notices

The usual notice period for section 8 notices varies depending on the grounds being used, e.g. 2 weeks for those served on the grounds of there being 8 weeks of unpaid rent.

In England, notice periods have returned to their pre-pandemic levels as of 1 October 2021. See our guide on Recovering possession under section 8 for information on notice periods for each ground.

Previously during the pandemic, notice periods depended on when you served the section 8 notice on the tenant (i.e. gave it to them):

  • Between 26 March 2020 and 28 August 2020 (inclusive): 3 months
  • Between 29 August 2020 and 31 May 2021 (inclusive): 6 months (if there were less than 6 months of rent arrears at the time the notice was given) or 4 weeks (if there were at least 6 months' arrears), with some reasons for eviction requiring less.
  • Between 1 June 2021 and 31 July 2021 (inclusive): 4 months (if there were less than 4 months of rent arrears at the time notice was given) or 4 weeks (if there were at least 4 months' arrears), with some reasons for eviction requiring less.
  • Between 1 August 2021 and 30 September 2021 (inclusive): 2 months (if there were less than 4 months of rent arrears at the time notice was given) or 4 weeks (if there were at least 4 months' arrears), with some reasons for eviction requiring less.

You can read more on the notice requirements for the different grounds in the government guide Coronavirus Act 2020 and renting.

In Wales, 3 months' notice was required for notices that were given to tenants between 26 March and 23 July 2020 (whatever the grounds used). This was then extended to 6 months for notices that were given to tenants between 24 July and 28 September 2020, unless they used grounds 7A or 14 (which are about antisocial behaviour) – the 3-month period still applied to those.

Since then, 6 months' notice is required for notices that are given to tenants up until 31 December 2021, except if the grounds used relate to anti-social behaviour or domestic violence – the notice period in those cases has returned to the pre-coronavirus position, as follows:

  • Serious anti-social behaviour (ground 7A): 4 weeks' notice for periodic tenancies or 1 month for fixed-term tenancies
  • Nuisance/annoyance, illegal/immoral use of property (ground 14): no notice required, proceedings can start straight after serving notice
  • Domestic violence (ground 14A): 2 weeks' notice (if claimed without other grounds).

Section 21 notices

The usual notice period for section 21 notices is 2 months. In England, notice periods have returned to this as of 1 October 2021.

Previously during the pandemic, you must have given at least 4 months' notice if sending your tenant a section 21 notice between 1 June 2021 and 30 September 2021 (inclusive). It was 6 months' notice between 29 August 2020 and 31 May 2021 (inclusive), and 3 months between 26 March and 28 August 2020 (inclusive).

In Wales, 3 months' notice is required for notices that were given to tenants between 26 March and 23 July 2020. This has since been extended to 6 months for notices that are given to tenants between 24 July and 31 December 2021 (inclusive).

Scotland

The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 has temporarily made all 18 grounds for eviction in the private sector discretionary.

Notices to leave served between 7 April and 2 October 2020 (inclusive) have an extended period of up to 6 months, depending on the ground being used. For example, if you are seeking to evict a tenant for rent arrears, the minimum notice period before you can apply for an eviction order is 6 months. See mygov.scot for details of which period applies to each ground.

Since 3 October, the 6-month notice requirement still applies in most cases, but the notice period for some grounds has been shortened. For example, the following grounds only require 28 days' notice:

  • The tenant has a relevant criminal conviction
  • The tenant has engaged in relevant antisocial behaviour
  • The tenant has associated in the let property with someone who has a criminal conviction or is antisocial.

See mygov.scot for more details. These provisions will expire on 31 March 2022 and may be extended further.

Northern Ireland

Landlords of private tenancies must give their tenants at least 12 weeks' notice to leave their property. This applies to all notices to quit issued from 5 May 2020 until at least 4 May 2022. The Northern Ireland Assembly may extend this further.

Gas safety checks and other repairs

Gas safety

Your health and safety obligations to your tenants haven't changed as a result of the pandemic, though they may be more difficult to carry out.

Gas safety checks should continue. That may not be possible if the tenants are self-isolating and refusing access. In those cases, make a list of all the actions you've taken to try and arrange the check, so that you can later show (if necessary) that you took all reasonable steps to fulfil your obligation.

The Gas Safe Register has published guidance for landlords on this.

Other repairs

You still have a duty to deal with urgent problems.

If the tenant household is isolating, tradespeople should not enter unless the work is an emergency repair – that means something that poses a risk to the household if left unfixed (e.g. a water leak or an unsafe structure).

Government guidance for England and Wales

The government has issued guidance for landlords about health and safety obligations during the pandemic, including repairs and inspections.

Amendments to right-to-rent checks in England

Temporary changes to right-to-rent checks are in place until 5 April 2022 (extended from 31 August 2021). You can carry out checks via video calls, or view scans or photographs of documents.

After this, the normal procedure will apply. You'll need to check the tenant's original documents or check their right to rent online (using the government's checking service). Note, however, that you won't need to redo any checks that you made using the temporary measures (provided you did so properly).

See GOV.UK for more.

Government advice

Official advice on the effects of coronavirus is available for landlords in:

England

Wales

Scotland; and

Northern Ireland.

Construction site operating procedures

The construction industry is expected to comply with the latest site operating procedures (SOP) issued by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC).

The SOP is based on the guidance provided by Public Health England (PHE) (different guidance may apply to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and this is in turn enforced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Where a construction site consistently does not comply with the requirements of the HSE it may be subject to enforcement action.

This SOP sets out in detail the considerations relevant to operating construction sites during the pandemic, such as:

  • When to Go to Work
  • Travel to Work
  • Driving at Work
  • Site Access and Egress Points
  • Hand Washing
  • Toilet Facilities
  • Canteens and Rest Areas
  • Changing Facilities, Showers and Drying Rooms
  • Work Planning to Avoid Close Working
  • First Aid and Emergency Service Response
  • Cleaning

The best way for construction companies to protect their workers while working during the pandemic is to follow the SOP as closely as possible, and make construction workers aware of its contents so that each can individually comply to protect themselves and each other.

Building work disputes

Due to the pandemic and its effects on the ability to complete building work in the normal way and within the normal timescales, there will potentially be many disputes. Contractual obligations that are likely to come under pressure include:

  • the supplier's ability to complete contracts on time;
  • the owner's ability to make payments on time; and
  • suppliers claiming that they're experiencing a situation 'outside their control' (i.e. a Force Majeure), requiring extensions of completion and performance dates.

The government has issued guidance that aims to encourage responsible and fair contractual behaviour.

What is the law guide

The Desktop Lawyer law guide aims to present the law to you in a comprehensive yet jargon-free and easy-to-read format. Our law guide is constantly kept up to date with changes in business and family law by our team of in house solicitors, and includes information across all the legal jurisdictions in the UK.

Our law guide is free to use. Where we provide documents related to this area of law, or where they may help you with any legal issue in this area, they will be listed to the right of this message.

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