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Coronavirus - managing your property

Last updated 27h March 2020

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Introduction

As the Government continues to introduce new measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus this will likely make it more difficult to maintain a tenanted property. With more people working from home and schools closing to all children of non-essential workers, performing inspections and necessary maintenance will become harder to manage.

This guide covers some practical tips for landlords in dealing with their property while the coronavirus emergency continues. It has been updated to incorporate the announcement that higher-risk individuals should self-isolate without symptoms.

What is our position?

To help alleviate the spread of the disease, the RLA and NLA are advocating for a suspension of routine inspections of properties by agents and landlords.

In addition, we are calling for a temporary halt on enforcement action by local authorities where landlords are unable to fulfil certain non-essential obligations because of the health risk posed to them, tenants and contractors.

We are also calling for a halt to implementing any new property licensing schemes for the duration of the emergency.

How should I market and arrange properties?

Landlords should seek to minimise face-to-face contact as much as possible.  Where a property is vacant consider creating a video walk-round or virtual viewing instead of in-person viewings. 

MHCLG are also advising that movement into new properties should be avoided unless the move is already underway and cannot be delayed. This means that the contract must have been agreed prior to the agreement being put into place and it is not possible to rearrange a new suitable date with all parties.  

It is advisable to avoid agreeing new lets until the tenant in situ has left the property. This will minimise the risk of breaching your contract with any incoming tenants should the existing tenant’s circumstances change.

Where you must meet a tenant, limit the number of people involved. The Government is now prohibiting public gatherings of more than two people from separate households. Consider whether you can arrange to have a lead person appointed that could be your point of contact.

How should I arrange check-ins and check-outs during this period?

Ideally, you should deal with as few people as possible during this period and try to minimise contact. Identify a lead tenant and arrange to meet them.

For HMO properties this is more difficult. You should let any existing tenants know the time you will arrive so they can avoid the common parts and practice social distancing. It is also a good idea to provide tenants in shared accommodation with links to the Government’s guidance on sharing homes with anyone self-isolating in case anyone does start to develop symptoms.

Should I continue to perform property inspections and visits during this period?

Landlords are still under a legal obligation to keep their property in repair and ensure any necessary inspections of the property are performed but this must be balanced against the risk of the infection or spread of the virus.

Anyone self-isolating is advised to avoid having any visitors to their home. If the tenant informs you they are self-isolating, you should cancel any planned visits or inspections and rearrange them for a suitable time in the future. Ensure this is documented.

What if my tenant is self-isolating, and we need to perform repairs to the property?

Anyone self-isolating is advised to avoid any visitors to their home. This may affect landlords' ability to inspect properties or organise maintenance or repairs.

In these circumstances, we advise the landlord to keep a dialogue going with tenant. You should document the reason you cannot carry out the repair. Ask the tenant to explain in an email or writing that they are self-isolating and that they are advised not to allow visitors to the property.

If you need access for a repair, landlords need to make a judgement on the urgency of the situation. Any repairs that can be put off, should be put off.

Essential works, such as water supply, sanitation and heating failure will still need to be addressed. Landlords, their representatives and tradespeople should follow advice on social distancing.

If an urgent repair is identified, then you may enter the property with the permission of the tenant. You and any contractors present should ensure you are not symptomatic. In addition, you should follow all guidelines on social distancing and hand washing while the work or inspection is performed. 

Contractors and tenants may also wish to contact Public Health England for further guidance when a property repair is required and the tenant is self-isolating.

My tenant has been identified as needing to self-isolate. However, I am legally required to enter the property or meet the tenant to meet a legal obligation. What should I do in this situation?

Landlords have several time-sensitive legal obligations to meet that cannot be rectified if they are prevented from accessing the property. These include, right to rent checks, gas safety inspections, HMO management requirements, the new upcoming electrical safety legislation and performing smoke alarm tests. We are pressing the Government to ensure landlords are not at risk if they do respect the tenant's need to self-isolate.

In the meantime you can minimise your risk in these situations by thoroughly documenting your attempts to comply with the legislation.

My gas safety certificate is due to be renewed in the near future. What should I do?

Gas safety inspections can go on as they are essential works. This is provided that everyone follows social distancing practices and the inspector, tenants, or landlord are not symptomatic at the time. However, there is a recognition this may be difficult to arrange due to shortages of inspectors as well as tenant's self-isolating or refusing access.

Gas safety certificates can be obtained up to two months prior to the expiration of the existing one. Landlords are encouraged by Gas Safe to start trying to arrange an inspection as early as possible in that two month period. If it's not possible to arrange an inspection then it should be documented. documentation should show that the landlord has tried to contact a number (most likely 5 or 6) of inspectors who were all unable to allocate an appointment.

Similarly, if the tenant refuses access then this should be documented with evidence the landlord has tried to accommodate suitable dates for the tenant.

For example, if the tenant refuses because they are self-isolating due to symptoms then the landlord should try and arrange a new check to be done 14 days after the household first shows symptoms. Provided the landlord has made three genuine efforts to arrange access and documented it this should be enough to provide sufficient excuse to the HSE.

For those with an underlying condition, inspections will need to wait for 12 weeks. If the landlord finds themselves in the latter situation it's essential they get documented evidence from the tenant confirming they are self-isolating for 12 weeks. The landlord should then arrange an appointment for after the 12 week period is over (subject to further isolation being necessary based on Gov guidance).

Will local authorities continue to enforce property conditions during this time?

Local authorities are encouraged to take a pragmatic, risk-based approach to enforcement.

My tenant has asked to end the tenancy early because their circumstances have changed due to the outbreak. How should I respond?

Some tenants may ask their landlord to end their tenancy early. Typically, this can occur where a university or college has suspended courses or teaching or a job contract has ended unexpectedly or without notice due to the coronavirus outbreak.

While you legally could enforce the terms of the tenancy and claim rent for the remaining period, it may be better to negotiate an end to the tenancy with the tenant or arrange a rent holiday with the tenant. Void periods are likely to increase over this period and it may be difficult to relet the property at this time.

The Government has announced that lenders will offer mortgage holidays for landlords with tenants affected by the coronavirus which is covered in a separate guide.

I had agreed a tenancy with some prospective tenants but they are now pulling out before they have moved in. What can I do?

Some landlords have experienced tenants that have agreed tenancies but are pulling out before they take up occupation. Tenants may seek to do this for a number of reasons. Some tenants may have been caught by travel restrictions and unable to travel to the UK, others may have seen a job offer withdrawn or a course cancelled.

It is unlikely that you could enforce the terms of the agreement in these circumstances. Where a holding deposit has been taken, you may choose to only retain the costs of setting up the tenancy, rather than the whole amount.

Due to early closures of universities, many students are leaving my property early. What can I do?

Contracts are still binding in these cases. You should remind the tenants of their obligations and, where necessary, contact their guarantors to inform them you plan to recoup the lost rent. Landlords have up to six years to chase any outstanding debt so you are advised to wait until the coronavirus emergency is over before actively pursuing tenants and guarantors through the courts.

My tenant was set to leave the property but has now wants to stay as they need to self-isolate. What should I do?

Landlords are encouraged to be understanding here where possible. While a valid notice will bring the tenancy to an end, the reality is it will be very difficult to enforce at this time. Further, it is likely to be difficult to replace any tenants immediately due to the constraints on tenant viewings at this time.

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