The Government has now published the landlord and tenant law amendments to the Coronavirus Bill. They cover both residential and commercial lettings. They apply to England and Wales (notwithstanding that some of these matters are devolved to the Welsh authorities).
There are amendments to the Rent Act 1977, Protection from Eviction Act 1977, Housing Act 1985, Housing Act 1988 and Housing Act 1996. The effect of these amendments is that the relevant statutory notice given as a precursor to possession proceedings for most residential tenancies is now increased to three months. The subordinate legislation and prescribed forms are also amended.
The Secretary of State may extend the period so that it becomes any period of up to six months.
These provisions come into force on the day after the Bill is passed. That means that the earliest that it will come into force is likely to be Friday, 27 March 2020 (the Bill is due to be considered by the House of Lords on Wednesday and Thursday).
Given that the provisions are not retrospective, there is an obvious risk that landlords will serve notices (for example under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988) now, before the legislation comes into force and increases the relevant notice period. There seems to be nothing to prevent the subsequent issue of proceedings, nor to disapply the “accelerated procedure” (which, as they are dealt with on the papers, could still be processed by county courts and District Judges whilst complying with the social isolation guidance).
Strikingly, there is nothing to assist tenants who find themselves in financial hardship and, hence, accruing rent arrears as a result of coronavirus.
By contrast, there are express protections for business tenancies. No right of re-entry or forfeiture for non-payment of rent may be enforced in any way from the day after the day on which the Act comes into force until 30 June 2020 (or such later date as the Secretary of State may specify).
For existing litigation based on forfeiture for rent arrears, the tenant cannot be evicted until the end of the relevant period (30 June 2020, or such later date as the Secretary of State may specify).
Failure to pay the rent during the relevant period is not to be treated as persistent delay in paying rent for the purposes of section 30(1)(b) of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954.
This is significantly more generous than for residential occupiers. In effect, it is a rent deferment for commercial tenancies. But is it too late, given the fast approaching quarter day of 25 March 2020?