Possession Actions and the Coronavirus

In my previous article upon the Coronavirus Act 2020, I discussed the newly introduced restrictions on the ability of landlords to recover possession of rented and commercial properties. 

Measures introduced under the Act and a Practice Direction governing civil proceeding in England & Wales were focussed on providing tenants with some protection from possession actions brought by landlords, with landlords finding themselves being unable to secure Possession Orders against Tenants until late June 2020.  Unfortunately, there was an unintended consequence; it prevented landowners from obtaining Possession Orders to recover their land/property from squatters.  Any squatter that entered into occupation of a property over the last month could have found themselves “sitting pretty” until the end of June 2020 at the earliest. 

However, that protection has now been removed, with Practice Direction 51Z  (which imposed a stay of proceedings in possession matters) having been amended. Paragraph 2A of PD 51Z now makes clear that the stay does not apply to

  • Claims against trespassers;
  • Applications for interim possession orders; and
  • Applications for case management directions which are agreed by all parties 

This is welcome news, and ensures that landowners can once again turn to the Court for assistance in securing possession of their land/property.

Landowners can still look to instruct a bailiff to serve a Notice to Vacate the land upon the squatters, before they seek to encourage the trespassers to vacate by reminding them of the landowner’s common law right to possession. 

The police do have powers to remove trespassers, though these powers tend to be rarely exercised. It may be that the police could be persuaded to act in circumstances where there are a group of trespassers on land, bearing in mind that this would seem to be in clear breach of the current Government guidance in relation to the spread the Coronavirus. I personally am doubtful as to whether the police would be willing to get involved in such matters, particularly when their resources are already spread thinly. 

It remains the case that prevention is better than cure. Owners of vacant properties and open land should ensure - within the parameters of social distancing rules of course - that their property/land remains secure, and undertake regular monitoring.

The Coronavirus has created a number of wide ranging issues for society to deal with.  That one of the consequences of measures taken to address the Coronavirus was that trespassers were able to remain in occupation of land with inadvertent statutory protection would have been a bitter pill for landowners to swallow.  The amendment to PD51Z is welcome, and highlights that where unintended consequences are identified with measures introduced to combat the Coronavirus and its impact on society, there is a willingness to make changes to address those issues. 

If you have any queries arising from this article, or would like to suggest a topic for a future article, please contact Chris Drinkall on 01482 337367 or by email at christopher.drinkall@rollits.com.  Chris can also be followed on twitter at @drinkall_chris and on LinkedIn.   

Posted on: 24/04/2020

This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.

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