Simon Roberts, Senior Associate Solicitor, DAS Law, explains your rights if you can’t pay your rent.
I’m struggling to pay my rent and my landlord has threatened to evict me. What is the current legal position on evictions during the pandemic?
In March 2020, the government introduced legislation to suspend any new evictions from social or privately rented accommodation. The suspension was due to come to an end on 23 August but has been extended further until 20 September, which means that landlords will be able to resume/commence possession proceedings after this date.
However, your landlord does have a protocol that they should follow prior to issuing proceedings and this will include evidencing that they have taken steps to understand your financial position and work with you to try and resolve the rent arrears. This may include agreeing on a payment plan.
The Coronavirus Act 2020 has also imposed a longer notice period for eviction notices served on tenants by the landlords seeking possession (namely Section 8 and Section 21 notices). The notice requirement was initially extended on 26 March 2020 requiring landlords to serve three months’ notice irrespective of whether a Section 8 or Section 21 notice was served.
A further amendment to the notice period was announced by the government and it was confirmed on Friday, 28 August that, as of 29 August, the notice period for Section 21 notices was to be increased from three months to six months. However, the notice required for Section 8 notice ranges from two weeks to six months depending on reasons for possession. These changes are now in force until 31 March 2021.
The law in Wales was changed in July 2020, meaning that most notices served in Wales on or after 24 July have to be six months. This was in force until mid-September 2020 but, has now been extended in line with England until 31 March 2021.
Can I challenge an eviction notice under the current legal guidelines?
This will largely depend on the eviction notice you have been given and whether your landlord has followed the correct procedure in issuing the notice. If they are relying on a Section 21 notice, a landlord doesn’t need to rely on a particular reason for trying to get possession. Therefore these will be difficult to challenge. However, there are strict requirements that the landlord needs to comply with when issuing a notice, and if these are not met, you may be able to challenge that the notice isn’t valid.
If a landlord has issued you with a Section 8 notice you may have more of a chance of challenging it as the landlord will be relying on a certain reason to seek eviction. There are certain grounds in which it will be mandatory for the court to award possession under a Section 8 notice if satisfied – e.g. if you are over six months in arrears.
Nevertheless, there are some grounds where it is at the discretion of the court – e.g. if the landlord is complaining about the condition of the premises. The key point is that if you are looking to challenge an eviction notice, you should seek legal advice.
I’ve been out of work/on furlough/on significantly less salary since March 2020, how can I negotiate with my landlord?
The government is working with the Master of the Rolls to widen the ‘pre-action protocols’ for possession proceedings for social landlords to include private landlords. This will ensure that private landlords have to take steps to understand their tenant’s financial position and attempt to reach an affordable rent repayment plan before proceeding with any legal action against tenants for possession.
If you cannot afford to pay your rent due to the Covid-19 outbreak, you should contact your landlord to try to negotiate a payment plan based on your financial position at this time. This could include a temporary rent reduction or a rent holiday. It may also be wise to inform your landlord of the steps that you are taking to address the issue.
Legally, you are still liable to pay the full amount of your rent. It is likely that the landlord will try to recover the shortfall by spreading the cost over future payments, unless an alternative agreement is reached. You should ensure that any agreement between you and your landlord is documented.
How do I know if I’m entitled to housing benefits?
Housing benefits are now being replaced by universal credit so most people will need to claim universal credit instead. You may be eligible for universal credit if:
- You’re 18 or over (there are some exceptions if you are 16 or 17);
- You’re on a low income or out of work;
- You’re under state pension age (or your partner is);
- You and your partner have £16,000 or less in savings between you;
- You live in the UK.
You cannot claim universal credit if you received severe disability premium or are entitled to it. Further information with regard to the eligibility criteria for such benefits can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/universal-credit/eligibility
The government offers online ‘benefit calculators’ that will tell you what benefits you are entitled to, how to claim, and how your benefits may be affected if you start work. These calculators are free and anonymous: https://www.gov.uk/benefits-calculators
Local authorities are also providing support in the form of council tax reductions during the Covid-19 outbreak. Those who already receive a council tax reduction will automatically receive a new bill from the council. Those who do not usually receive a council tax reduction should contact their local authority to see if they would be eligible for a reduction during the pandemic.
Can my landlord increase the rent?
For any tenancy, your landlord must first get your permission before they increase the rent. Any proposal to increase rent must be fair and realistic.
If you have a periodic tenancy that rolls on a week by week or month by month basis, your landlord cannot increase the rent more than once in any 12 month period without your agreement. If you have a fixed term tenancy, your landlord can only increase the rent if you agree.
A tenancy agreement will usually set out the process your landlord must follow to increase the rent. If your tenancy agreement is silent with regard to a rent increase then your landlord can attempt to renew your tenancy at the end of the fixed term with an increased rent, or agree a rent increase with you and keep a written record of this agreement that you both sign.
Additionally, if there is no rent review clause in your tenancy, your landlord is able to use a Section 13 notice to increase the rent. This rent increase can only come into effect once the fixed term has ended and has become a periodic tenancy, but the notice itself can be served during the fixed term. If you pay rent weekly or monthly, your landlord should give you one month’s notice. If you have a yearly tenancy, your landlord should give you six months’ notice.
You are able to challenge a Section 13 notice given to you by your landlord if you feel that the increase is unreasonable. If you are unable to resolve this with your landlord then this dispute can be escalated to the First Tier tribunal, but this must be received by the tribunal prior to the expiry of the Section 13 notice provided. We would strongly advise that you seek legal advice before proceeding with any legal claim to discuss the options available to you.
With the easing of lockdown restrictions, can I still move home during lockdown?
If you cannot find a new home due to the lockdown restrictions, you may wish to contact your landlord to inform them you are unable to move and to negotiate a tenancy extension. If your fixed term tenancy is due to expire, this will automatically continue as a periodic, monthly rolling tenancy.
All court action for possession is on hold until at least Monday 21 September 2020 due to lockdown restrictions. This means that your landlord cannot legally evict you during this time. In light of this, landlords and tenants must work together and continue to be flexible.
In England and Wales, you are able to move home providing that you can take appropriate measures to stay safe and comply with social distancing. During any move you should ensure that you are complying with public health guidance. If you feel you are at a higher risk from coronavirus, or have tested positive and need to move home urgently, you must take advice from local public health bodies prior to any move. If the move is not essential then it should not take place until you’re advised that it is safe to do so.
The property market in Scotland and Northern Ireland has reopened with similar guidance to comply with public health information. Although, you may not move home in an area of local lockdown in Scotland and you cannot move home in Northern Ireland if you test positive.
Need more help?
DAS UK customers have access to templates and guides on dashouseholdlaw.co.uk. Whether you want to challenge an employment decision, apply for flexible working rights, contend a parking ticket or create a Will, DAS Householdlaw can help.
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Disclaimer: This information is for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities and is not formal legal advice as no lawyer-client relationship has been created. Note that the information was accurate at the time of publication but laws may have since changed.