The government's response to the Coronavirus pandemic has imposed restrictions which are relevant for landlords in the private rented sector. However landlords can still access their properties and ensure that works are carried out to meet legal obligations and ensure tenant welfare whilst observing social distancing measures.
What restrictions are in place to protect health?
The government's advice at present is to only leave your house for the following reasons:
- Shopping for essentials
- For exercise (once daily)
- Travelling to and from work (when work cannot be completed from home)
- To care for a vulnerable person
- For a medical reason.
Full details can be found at www.gov.uk/coronavirus. A landlord who needs to visit their property in response to a serious health and safety concern is covered by these exemptions as would be visits to the property by their tradesperson to complete essential repairs (provided both parties are well and non-symptomatic). Social distancing of 2 meters must be adhered to throughout attendance. Council staff who deal with the enforcement of standards in the private rented sector will still be responding to complaints concerning health and safety risks in the private rented sector and there are no measures to prevent the Council from taking enforcement action in circumstances where there is serious risk to health and safety. We are adapting our working practices to minimise the spread and may rely on photos from tenants in lower risk cases. We will contact landlords on the basis of these reports but will be understanding in terms of the timescales we are allowing for resolution. We anticipate that by far the majority of cases can be dealt with informally based on common sense agreements.
How should I manage my property whilst the government's restrictions are in place?
The current measures will make it more difficult to manage your property. There are some practical steps you can take to allow you to manage your business during the crisis:
- Make a video of your property for advertising purposes if you need to advertise it for let. Video calls could be useful if a tenant wants specific information as opposed to a physical viewing.
- The government restrictions mean that it is not possible to gather in a group of more than two. You could agree on a lead tenant who could meet you at the property to do a check in. This could equally apply at check out.
- Follow the decontamination advice during empty period between tenancy changes.
- Avoid pre-planned property inspections unless there is a justifiable health and safety reason to go ahead.
- If you are aware of a repair which needs doing but the tenant is unable to permit access due to self-isolation, ask them to document this in a text or an email. Work should not be carried out in properties where the tenant is self isolating or shielding (tenants who are more vulnerable to the infection due to their medical condition) unless there is a serious and direct threat to tenant safety.
- We are advising that non-essential repair works be delayed until the peak of the pandemic has subsided. Matters which we would not consider appropriate to delay would include; water supply problems, sanitation, security, fire safety, electrical safety, gas safety, heating & hot water faults. We are likely to carry out physical inspections of these types of defects if there are no other complicating factors (for example lab confirmed cases and properties where shielding is taking place).
- Specific advice concerning your legal position & gas safety can be found through the Gas Safe Register . Please make use of the two month window you have to arrange the safety check as this can provide an important contingency for you in the event of self isolation or shortages of safety engineers.
The pandemic has affected my tenant's ability to pay rent - what should I do?
Buy to let lenders have agreed to offer a 3 month mortgage holiday to landlords whose tenants have been financially affected by the pandemic. You must be up to date with your payments to apply for the holiday and interest will accrue during this period which could affect the value of subsequent payments. Mortgage lenders have agreed to suspend any possession claims for 90 days with effect from 19th March 2020.
Employers have been encouraged by the government to retain employees and have offered to pay 80% of wages up to £2500 under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Self employed tenants can claim a one off lump sum of up to 80% of their profits (three year average) or £2500 per month (whichever is the lesser). Click here for the Government's advice on help available during the outbreak.
Local Authorities will have access to a £500m grant to cover cases where rate payers are unable to pay their Council Tax.
What are the new rules regarding evictions?
All on going possession cases have been suspended for 90 days from 27th March 2020.
Notice periods under possession order will be extended to 3 months.
Pre-action protocols now apply to the private rented sector in the same way they apply to registered social landlords (this introduces steps you must take before seeking a possession order).
You will need to offer your tenant a rent holiday if you have been granted a mortgage payment holiday. Click here for the Government's advice in full
What about HMO properties?
The government has advised that if anyone in a household shows symptoms of Coronavirus , the whole household should self isolate for 14 days. You should advise your tenants by email or text that if a single tenant shows symptoms of COVID-19, all tenants of your HMO will need to self-isolate. Details of financial support for people affected by this measure can be found on this page COVID-19 Support for businesses . It would be sensible to provide hand sanitizer and soap if a member of an HMO household is self isolating to limit the risk of transmission. You may also find the following advice concerning decontamination after someone has displayed symptoms useful.