Last updated 02.09.2020
In this guide we take a look at some areas most relevant to landlords and outline the key information they need to know during the coronavirus pandemic.
Access to your property
It may be the case that you need access to your property during this period of lockdown, so here are some common scenarios and the Government response.
What does the current situation mean for repairs to my property?
- Landlords’ repair obligations have not changed. Tenants have a right to a decent, warm and safe place to live – and it is in the best interests of both tenants and landlords to ensure that properties are kept in good repair and free from hazards.
- Good management requires regular review and maintenance of a property, but we understand that planned inspections may be more difficult at this time. However, that is no reason to allow dangerous conditions to persist.
- We are encouraging tenants to inform landlords early and engage constructively in the event that they encounter any issues with the condition of the property. Technological solutions such as smartphones can be used to reduce the need for in-person inspections of property issues.
- Where reasonable and safe for you, and in line with other Government guidance, you should make every effort to review and address issues brought to your attention by your tenants, and keep records of your efforts.
- However, in these unprecedented times we encourage tenants and landlords to take a pragmatic, common-sense approach to non-urgent issues which are affected by COVID-19 related restrictions.
- Inspectors or maintenance workers can still visit blocks of flats and multi-occupied properties for essential or urgent work such as inspecting and testing fire alarm and emergency lighting systems.
- Urgent health and safety issues are those which will affect your tenant’s ability to live safely and maintain their mental and physical health in the property. This could include (but is not limited to):
- If there is a problem with the fabric of the building, for example the roof is leaking
- If your boiler is broken, leaving your tenant without heating or hot water
- If there is a plumbing issue, meaning your tenant does not have washing or toilet facilities
- If the white goods such as fridge or washing machine have broken, meaning the tenant is unable to wash clothes or store food safely
- If there is a security-critical problem, such as a broken window or external door
- If equipment a disabled person relies on requires installation or repair
What about my legal obligations to provide regular gas and electrical safety inspections? Will I be prosecuted if I can’t get access because I or my tenants are self-isolating?
- Landlords must provide tenants with all necessary gas and electrical safety and any other relevant certification at the beginning of a tenancy (and carry out all scheduled inspections and tests where required). Where inspections have already been carried out, documents can be provided by post or in some circumstances it may be possible to provide digital copies.
- Landlords should make every effort to abide by existing gas safety regulations and electrical safety regulations which came into force on 1 June. There are provisions in both regulations to account for situations in which a landlord cannot do this, and they must demonstrate they have taken all reasonable steps to comply with the law.
- The Government is encouraging local authorities and other enforcement agencies to take a pragmatic, common-sense approach to enforcement in these unprecedented times. You can read the latest guidance for landlords and Gas Safe engineers and inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive here
- If you are not able to gain access to the property due to restrictions in place to tackle COVID-19, or are not able to engage a contractor to carry out the necessary work, we recommend you document your attempts to do so and all correspondence with your tenants.
What about the risk of catching the virus?
- You must follow sensible precautions to keep yourself safe when you or contractors or others are visiting the property, as outlined in public health guidance.
- You can take additional measures such as ensuring contractors and tenants remain in separate rooms during any visits and following Government advice on hygiene and cleanliness before, during and after visits.
- Wherever possible avoid all direct contact between residents and visitors to the property.
Someone in my House in Multiple Occupation has the virus, am I obliged to remove them or find my tenants another place to stay?
- The Government has issued specific guidance on what to do if someone in your household has contracted the virus, including self-isolating the whole household for 14 days. You can find that guidance here
- Nobody can be removed from their home because of the virus.
- Landlords are not obliged to provide alternative accommodation for tenants if others in the property contract the virus.
- You may wish to direct your tenants to Government guidance on and on cleanliness and hygiene for non-medical locations here
Stopping charging rent during the outbreak
You may be asking whether you should stop charging rent during this current time. The advice from the Government is as follows:
- Landlords are not required to do this. Most tenants will be able to pay rent as normal and should continue to do so, as they will remain liable for the rent during this period.
- There is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach, as each tenant’s circumstance is different and some will be worse affected in terms of their ability to pay than others. It is important for landlords to be flexible and have a frank and open conversation with their tenants at the earliest opportunity, to allow both parties to agree a sensible way forward
It might become the case that tenants are unable to pay their rent, due to losing their job or becoming furloughed, so may ask for a ‘rent holiday’. Although there is no Government mandate for landlords to comply, you may feel obliged to help them out. If this is the case then you could look into applying for a mortgage holiday yourself (if you have a mortgage on the rented out property). Many lenders are offering this currently, however it is not guaranteed.
If you do not receive a request from your tenant to alter the rent and are unsure how to proceed, please contact your local branch to discuss.
Housing possession cases and court action
Under the Coronavirus Act 2020, until 31st March 2021, landlords will need to give their tenants six months' notice if they intend to seek possession of Assured Shorthold Tenancies. In addition to these measures, the Government has issued a Practice Direction to stop possession claims from progressing until 20th September 2020.
To find out more about what you should be doing as a landlord during the coronavirus outbreak, please contact your local branch.
Information in this article is taken from the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government document ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19)Guidance for Landlords and Tenants’