Here is a question regarding the coronavirus emergency to the blog clinic from Marie (not her real name) who is a tenant:
We are renting from a letting agency. Our landlord served notice (section 21) early February 2020 (before the measures had taken place). Our lease ends on 15th April. Our household is affected by the Coronavirus and we are a family of 3, 2 adults (father and mother ) and a 4-year-old boy.
We contacted the letting agency and the landlord and explained the situation that we are unable to move out on 15th April as we are unwell. We told them we will pay the rent normally, as usual, every month.
The landlord told us we have 10 days and its more than enough for self-isolation and that he has new tenants lined up and he will want us out.
We feel extremely worried and we feel its extremely unsafe for us to move homes at this time and to be in contact with movers for at least 4 or 5 hours and still we will need to buy all furniture.
We know that the landlord or agency cannot evict us at the time being, but can they sue us for not moving out on time as they served us notice and we have an assured shorthold tenancy? Can they claim any compensations or ask for double rent?
We want to know if we are covered by these new measures, as our landlord served the notice before the measures as mentioned above.
We would appreciate your advice and guidance in these difficult times.
Short answer – you should stay in your home and not move if at all possible.
The reason why the government have introduced lockdown measures and arranged for a stay on all eviction proceedings is that any property moves at this time could help spread the virus which is what we are all trying to avoid.
A section 21 notice does not end the tenancy, it means that if the landlord goes to court, a Judge must (if the notice has been drafted correctly and if all the pre-conditions have been complied with) make a court order for possession.
However until that court order has been made, your tenancy remains in place and you are entitled to live in the property.
After a fixed term comes to an end, statute (ie s5 of the Housing Act 1988) brings into force a ‘periodic tenancy’ which will run from month to month – assuming your rent is paid monthly, which will be under the terms and conditions of your preceding fixed term tenancy agreement.
Your landlord cannot, therefore, require you to leave and if he persists in this, this will be deemed harassment which is a criminal offence. Residential tenants can ONLY be physically evicted by court bailiffs (or High Court Enforcement Officers) after a court order for possession has been obtained.
- You will still have a tenancy and a tenancy agreement after 15 April
- You cannot be required to leave without a court order
- Your landlord cannot obtain a court order at this time
To answer your specifical questions:
- Your landlord cannot sue you for not moving out
- Your landlord cannot claim compensation for the difficulty they are in with their incoming tenants – landlords should never sign a new tenancy agreement with new tenants until they have vacant possession – if they do they are taking a risk. You cannot be held responsible for this.
- You will not be liable for double rent – this is sometimes payable if a tenant has given a tenants notice to quit and then fails to vacate. This is not the case here, it is the landlord who has served notice, not you.
I would suggest you write to your landlord telling them that you are unable to move out on 15 April and that you do not know when you will be in a position to vacate. However, you have been advised that from 15 April your tenancy will continue as a periodic tenancy. You will continue to pay rent as normal.
If the landlord starts putting pressure on you, keep a record of everything which happens (eg a diary) so if necessary you will be in a position to prove harassment.
You can also refer your landlord to the relevant sections of the government’s advice for landlords and tenants paragraphs, for example
If you are a tenant, the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 means that you cannot be forced to leave your home without a court order and warrant for execution of that order. The 1977 Act also protects some people who occupy their home under a licence. Breaches of the Act can give rise to a civil action and be a criminal offence.
Which refers to the suspension of court proceedings for 90 days from 27 March 2020 and then says
For landlords, this will mean not expecting tenants to move even where you have already issued notice of your intention to regain possession of the property, or if you go on to issue notice for any reason during the next three months.
This is a difficult time for everyone and landlords and tenants are expected to be reasonable about things and not expect the impossible.
If you are paying rent, your landlord is fortunate as many tenants are (wrongly and unlawfully) failing to pay.
Stay in your home, pay your rent and wait until this dreadful time is over. Or at least until things become less difficult and property moves less dangerous.