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Unlawful evictions during COVID-19 pandemic

Posted on 30th April 2020

Eviction notices should still be served to tenants if a landlord wants them removed from a property during the current Coronavirus pandemic. Set out by the Protection from Eviction Act 1977, the law applies to secure tenants, assured tenants, assured shorthold tenants and many of those with less secure tenancy agreements.

What is unlawful eviction?

In most cases, your landlord cannot evict you without first serving Section 21 notice of eviction, obtaining a possession order, and then getting a legal warrant for eviction. If a landlord excludes you from the property without having first gone through this necessary legal process, this is an unlawful eviction.

If your landlord attempts to unlawfully evict you – via threats or by changing the locks – or harasses you, you may be able to obtain an injunction. This can allow you to regain access to the property, prevent your landlord from making threats or harassing you, and may also entitle you to claim compensation.

How has Covid-19 impacted the legal eviction process?

Importantly, the law on unlawful eviction has NOT changed because of Covid-19. Even if your landlord is concerned about the transmission of Coronavirus or is under pressure from other tenants, they must still serve an eviction notice.

Equally, there is nothing to prevent a landlord from evicting tenants during the current crisis, if they follow the correct procedure and give a three-month notice period [Coronavirus Act 2020].

This means your landlord cannot issue possession proceedings to regain control of the property until three months after the date on the eviction notice. If the notice is served on or after 26 March 2020 (and until 30 September 2020) and does not give three months’ notice, it may be defective, and you could have a defence to future possession proceedings.

Tenants at risk of eviction are also protected by the Master of the Rolls on 27 March 2020 [Practice Direction 51Z], which delayed all possession proceedings for 90 days. Therefore, all possession cases, including those already issued, have been postponed until 25 June 2020.

This means that your landlord will not be able to obtain a possession order or a warrant for eviction until after 25 June 2020. Current warrants already obtained will not be executed. Even if your landlord serves you with a valid notice and issues a claim, the court will not deal with the application until after 25 June 2020.

Has the risk of unlawful eviction increased due to Covid-19?

The Coronavirus pandemic has caused great financial strain on a huge number of people. Many will lose their jobs or their businesses, while others are having to manage on a greatly reduced income.

This has affected both landlords and tenants. Delays in financial assistance from the government and the processing of benefits applications has further increased the financial pressure on many households.

While there are mortgage holidays available for homeowners, there is as yet no similar support for those renting their homes. Tenants may struggle to keep up their payments and fall into arrears as a result of Covid-19.

Furthermore, fears regarding the transmission of the virus are likely to affect the dynamic in shared accommodation and the willingness of some private landlords to rent their properties, carry out necessary repairs, or engage with tenants.

This coupled with the restrictions on the lawful action that landlords can take as set out above, would seem to create a perfect storm in which the risk of unlawful evictions may increase.

Unlawful eviction at Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors

At Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors, we have seen a spike in enquiries from tenants who have been threatened with eviction by their landlords. These landlords have not followed the correct process and are ordering tenants to leave their homes on very short notice. This sudden increase does appear to be a reaction to the current circumstances.

There have also been a number of reports in the press of key workers being told to leave their accommodation with immediate effect due to fears that they will bring the virus into the property.

One particularly tragic story, which illustrates the possible consequences of living in fear of eviction, is the recently reported case of Rajesh Jayaseelan1. His friends have reported that Mr Jayaseelan stayed in his room within shared accommodation without food for weeks and avoided seeking medical assistance due to fear of being evicted from the property if the other tenants or landlord discovered he had Covid-19 symptoms.

He eventually drove himself to hospital but sadly passed away shortly after. Mr Jayaseelan’s actions are reported to have been informed by an experience the month before of being told to leave previous shared accommodation by the landlord due to fears that, because he was an Uber diver, he would spread the disease. This led to him being made homeless for several nights.

Getting legal advice for potential illegal evictions

If you are ever faced with a situation where you think you may lose your home, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible either from a solicitor, a law centre or Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

Legal Aid may be available subject to financial eligibility. You should also contact your local authority who should assist you to try to regain entry to the property.

What steps can you take if you are threatened with unlawful eviction?

As mentioned above, if you are told to leave your property by your landlord who hasn’t followed the correct legal process – and given you the correct notice period – they may well be acting unlawfully, and you should always seek legal advice.

We have seen examples of landlords trying to argue that tenants are in fact lodgers (which would exclude them from protection for eviction measures) and so even if you think your landlord may be able to evict you, you should still check your position.

There are three key takeaways:

  • Immediate action can be taken to prevent a landlord from unlawfully evicting you in the first place. A lawyer speaking to the landlord and reminding him or her of your legal rights is often enough and we have successfully assisted many clients in this way during the pandemic.
  • Even if your landlord has served a valid notice, no possession order or eviction warrant can be obtained until after 25 June 2020. Any attempt to remove you without these would also be unlawful.
  • Your rights to be protected from unlawful eviction may be challenged during the Covid-19 pandemic but they are in no way reduced by this. Whatever the reasons behind an unlawful eviction, this is not permitted by law and if your landlord is trying to throw you out without following the proper process, you can and should seek immediate advice and assistance.

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1 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/17/uber-driver-dies-from-covid-19-after-hiding-it-over-fear-of-eviction

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