Housing cases during the Covid-19 crisis

April 8, 2020

Housing possession cases have to a large degree drawn to a standstill. Not only have all possession claims been stayed for 90 days (CPR PD 51Z), but the statutory notice period for most tenancies has been extended to (at least) 3 months (s.81 and sch. 29 of the Coronavirus Act 2020).

Technically, the stay of possession proceedings means that no work should be done on the case, even if there is a trial due to take place after 25 June 2020. However, it may be sensible to discuss with the other side what steps the parties can be undertaking, so that the case is in as advanced a position as possible when the courts fully reopen. This may also be the perfect time to review the evidence.

Some types of housing hearings are still taking place during this period. See the full list of priorities, which relates to the county court only.

Naturally they include homelessness applications (including s.204 appeals) and applications to stay enforcement of existing possession orders as Priority 1 cases (cases that must take place).

Priority 2 cases (work that could be done) include applications for summary judgment or to set aside judgment , and small claims / fast track cases where the parties agree it is urgent. Potentially this could include the trial of a disrepair claim.

If you are a landlord or a tenant with a housing-related issue, do contact us for assistance.

Injunctions

With families being kept in their homes, there is likely to be a rise in anti-social behaviour. Therefore injunction hearings are  allotted Priority 1 status.

Social landlords and the police still have the power to seek injunctions under the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014. But private individuals (whether landlord or neighbour) can always seek one under common law or the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. These powers will be especially important to enforce the Government’s social distancing rules.

Moreover, landlords still have duties relating to the repair of their properties. If they urgently need access to the property, the tenant will still have to give it to them and if they do not, an injunction is the appropriate remedy.

Injunctions can, of course, be pursued urgently and even without notice in appropriate cases. In the current climate there is no real reason (depending on the circumstances as always) why these hearings cannot take place remotely.

One problem may be the temporary closure of a court in which pre-existing injunction proceedings were to take place. The matter may need to be transferred (if urgent) or even a new claim issued in a court that is open, eg the High Court.

Committals

Equally, the enforcement of injunctions by committal proceedings survives the Coronavirus emergency legislation.

Despite that, courts seem reluctant to deal with full committal hearings and are adjourning them. This is perhaps unsurprising given:

  • the defendant may well be in person and
  • it is, at least in my view, undesirable without better technology for oral evidence and cross examination to take place remotely, at least in the county courts.

The courts have stressed the importance of a fair hearing for alleged contemnors (see e.g. Re O (Committal: Legal Representation) [2019] EWCA Civ 172).

Finally

The High Court have made clear in In the matter of One Blackfriars Ltd (6 Apr 2020) that, at least in respect of High Court cases, even long and complex trials will not be adjourned simply because of this crisis. The parties were ordered to continue to prepare for a trial in early June and to explore the technological options for a remote trial.

For guidance updated daily, HM Courts & Tribunals Service publishes an operational summary on courts and tribunals during coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

This also includes a link to guidance on telephone and video hearings.