With people and businesses all over the world required to react and adapt to the current situation caused by Covid-19, the property industry is no different. The Coronavirus Act 2020 was sped through parliament to help give clarity and direction amidst great uncertainty.
Here are the current guidelines surrounding and the do’s and don’ts whilst we’re all following stringent social distancing measures. It’s a helpful list for both landlords and tenants alike:
Essential moves are those which must happen as a matter of urgency. Examples of essential moves include a water leak flooding the property, a key worker needing to move closer to their place of work or isolate away from families, escaping domestic violence, or any situation which renders a property unfit to live in, or endangers life.
Any cases which aren’t classed as essential have to be put on hold until lockdown restrictions are eased.
If you are a landlord paying an essential visit to an empty property, scientific advice stipulates that the Covid-19 virus can survive on surfaces for up to 72 hours. With this in mind, as far as possible ensure you’re not visiting a property less than 72 hours after it has been vacated, and that someone entering the property after you are doing so with a 72-hour delay.
Also ensure that you wipe down any obvious surfaces such as door handles, window latches, worktops, and even gates.
Inventories and scheduled conditions are not legal requirements for rental properties, they are on the nice-to-have list. With this in mind, you can do a digital walk around with tenants via a video call, but no-one should be visiting properties to conduct an inventory check until restrictions are lifted.
As previously stated, no-one should be moving unless it is classed as an essential move. There isn’t a legal requirement to return deposits until ten days after a sum has been agreed by the parties on the tenancy. This means that if a tenant vacates the property without agreement from all parties, landlords are under no obligation to return their deposit until a check-out can take place post-lockdown.
Essential maintenance is classed as work covered by legislation, such as an annual safety gas record, the electrical installation condition report (for new and renewed tenancies from 1st July 2020), and fire and safety alarm checks.
If you are unable to find a tradesperson willing to undertake this work, or your tenant refuses entry to the property, you need to be able to show that you attempted to fulfill your legal responsibilities to the best of your ability. It’s really important that you keep a record of all contact with tenants and tradespeople, get confirmation that the household is symptom-free before arranging work, and carry out the work immediately when the lockdown is over.
Please note: you can be prosecuted for NOT conducting the annual gas safe record on a rental property UNLESS you can prove that you were unable to gain access or find a suitably qualified engineer to conduct the check. This means contacting as many engineers as possible, and keeping evidence of your efforts as mentioned above in order to cover yourself.
It is now illegal to rent a property with an EPC rating below E after the MEES legislation came into force on 1st April 2020. However, the EPC must be made available to your tenants when they show interest in the property initially prior to marketing and viewing. Common sense would, therefore, assume that those tenants living in a property where the current EPC is about to expire should have notified you that the property would be inhabitable going forward. Otherwise, you should carry out the renewal of the EPC immediately when the lockdown is over.
Usually conducted in person examining physical documents, the rules surrounding the right to rent checks have been temporarily relaxed during the lockdown. However the checks will need to be completed when restrictions are lifted, so you need to make a note in your diary to carry out these checks using the normal in-person procedure ASAP when you are able to safely do so.
With the job retention scheme announced by the Chancellor, employees are able to receive 80% of their income if they are unable to work during the lockdown. This takes into account the reduced need to spend on things such as travel during the lockdown, and tenants should still be able to pay their rent.
However, every situation is different, and it is advisable to listen to the tenant’s circumstances with compassion. Some landlords may be able to offer a negotiated rental amount during these difficult times, but some may be unable to offer this due to their own circumstances.
If the tenant is unable to pay the rent on time and they have a guarantor for their tenancy, you should notify them of the situation as soon as possible. They have a legal obligation to take on the rent if the tenant is unable to pay, and during the current time may be able to offer the tenant extra support.
We hope this post answers questions you may have, but don’t forget we’re still available. Our offices may be closed, but the Northfields team are all working hard from home. With that in mind, if you have any lettings questions or concerns at all, please get in touch with us via our website live chat, or call us on any of our usual branch numbers, and your call will be diverted to someone who will be happy to help you.