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Our fixed term tenancy will finish on 31st July; with a two month notice period. I believe it’s likely that we will still be in lockdown by the end of July. I think it’s very likely that we’ll still be in lockdown by the end of May (when we have to make a decision).

May I ask:

  1. Regardless of COVID-19, if no new fixed term contract is agreed, then does the tenancy automatically become a rolling contract?

  2. It’s easier to evict from a rolling contract; I believe that the landlord can also decide to end the contract at the end of May. However, aren’t evictions currently banned, during the pandemic? Would this not cancel out this problem?

  3. Lockdown and social distancing is law, if I’m not mistaken. Wouldn’t that make flat viewings — both for us, if we had to move, and any potential new tenants of our current place; not to mention the process of moving home, itself — illegal? I assume one can’t be compelled to break the law.

The reason I ask is because our landlord wants a new fixed term contract, potentially allowing for a break clause. We’d much rather a rolling contract and I want to find good arguments to support that.

Thanks :)

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“We want a rolling contract and won’t agree to a fixed term”

... is an unassailable argument.

You choose when to enter a contract and on what terms - freedom of contract is fundamental to English law.

You are correct that if neither you nor the landlord give notice to end the tenancy it becomes a periodic tenancy.

You cannot currently be evicted but you are in breach of your contract if you stay after your tenancy ends and you can be sued for damages - presumably the value of the rent the landlord could have got if you weren’t there. Possibly, if they have a long-term tenant lined up and they lose that tenant, you would be liable until they found a new tenant.

There is no prohibition on moving house under the current circumstances although it is discouraged. Notwithstanding, even if there was, unless your contract says “if the government prevents me from moving out I don’t have to” (which it won’t), government restrictions do not relieve you of your contractural obligations.

Is it harder to conduct real estate transactions at the moment? Yes. Too bad. “Hard” does not release you from a contract.

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  • "you are in breach of your contract if you stay after your tenancy ends": except that the landlord cannot end a tenancy; that can only be done either by the tenant (by leaving at the end of the fixed term, or by giving a month's notice for a rolling tenancy), or by a court. If a tenant stays beyond the actual end of the tenancy, they can in theory be charged the equivalent of double rent as a trespasser. – Steve Melnikoff Apr 21 at 15:39
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To add to the other answers: evictions have not been banned, but the notice period has been extended to 3 months for both section 21 ("no-fault") and section 8 (specified reasons) notices.

However, if the landlord serves notice, you are not required to move at the end of the notice period (though it is common for tenants to do so). Instead, that is merely the earliest date on which the landlord can start legal proceedings against you.

While that is happening, the tenancy continues as a rolling tenancy as normal, and you must continue to pay rent and fulfil your other obligations as a tenant. The tenancy only ends when a court fixes an end date for it.

Note that during the coranavirus crisis, courts are not currently accepting new applications for evictions, so if a landlord serves a section 21 notice, it could be many, many months before an eviction is ordered.

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A lot could change. But right now, you're entitled to 3 months' notice. I suppose the landlord could serve you notice on April 30 that you are out at the end of July as planned.

If the landlord waits until May 31 to serve you 60 day notice per the contract, and that clause is still active, the notice will have to be for August 31.

So you are assuredly safe until July 31 or August 31 (depending on when they serve notice and the law at that time). If the bar on evictions has been lifted by then, then the landlord could start a Section 21 eviction process at that time. That in turn requires 2-month notice (currently 3 months due to the virus) plus a potentially long process; if you really dig in your heels it can take months longer before you must hand the keys to a bailiff.

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  • Minor corrections: the normal notice period for a section 21 is 2 months (not 60 days), but because of the coranavirus situation, has been extended to 3 months. – Steve Melnikoff Apr 19 at 19:54
  • @SteveMelnikoff Good point, but correct me if I'm wrong, the same force that changes evictions to 3 months also bans them altogether. I assume the ban and the 3-instead-of-2 would be repealed simultaneously. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Apr 19 at 20:25
  • Evictions are not banned, though for all practical purposes, they are on pause: specifically, all notice periods have been extended to 3 months, and courts are not accepting new eviction applications. See my answer for more details. – Steve Melnikoff Apr 19 at 20:34

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