Frequently Asked Residential Property Questions during the COVID-19 crisis
The UK residential property sector has been adversely affected by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and landlords and tenants may wonder where they stand.
To assist tenants and landlords, the Government has introduced several temporary changes to legislation and issued a lot of guidance that attempts to cover a number of scenarios.
However, many tenants and landlords are still likely to have queries, which is why our experienced team have put together a list of questions and answers to help you navigate the obligations and rights of all parties.
Can a person be evicted for not paying rent?
New rules have been introduced by the Government that freeze repossession proceedings and evictions to ensure that tenants struggling to cover their rent are protected.
These changes have been active since 27 March 2020 and will last for 90 days.
The measure covers all private and social renters, as well as those with mortgages who face repossession by a lender.
To clarify the rules the Government has released additional guidance which confirms that:
- There is a current backstop for the relevant direction so that it ceases to have any effect on 30 October 2020.
- The delay imposed on possession proceedings does not apply to claims against trespassers.
- Parties can make applications for case management directions, where both parties agree on them.
The delay does not prevent the issuing of claims and only prevents the progress of them via the courts.
Am I permitted to serve an eviction notice still?
Since 26 March 2020, temporary laws have required landlords to give renters three months’ notice if they intend to seek possession.
Notice periods have been extended accordingly, which will affect the date when court proceedings can be issued.
This protection covers most tenants in the private and social rented sectors in England and Wales including tenancies under the Rent Act 1977, the Housing Act 1985, the Housing Act 1996 and the Housing Act 1988.
The provisions may be changed and the progress of proceedings may still be frozen for a longer period, subject to further amendment by the Government.
Are tenants legal required to still pay rent?
Government guidance tells tenants that they should continue to pay rent and abide by all other terms of their tenancy agreement during this period, where possible.
This means that rent levels set in a tenancy agreement remain legally due and so any unpaid rent will be accrued as arrears and require repayment.
Tenants have been provided with a strong package of financial support by the Government to ensure that they can continue to meet their housing costs. Where they can pay the rent as normal, they should do.
Tenants that are unable to pay rent must contact their landlord at the earliest opportunity to discuss the repayment of rent or alternative arrangements.
The moratorium on evictions does not allow for tenants to stop paying rent and they should be aware that landlords can take legal action in future to recover rent, including the repossession of the property.
My tenant is in arrears, what can I do?
Landlord and tenants have been asked, where possible, to agree on a plan where tenants are struggling to pay their rent.
Options available to tenants and landlords include:
- A temporary agreement not to seek possession action;
- A reduction in rent; and/or
- An agreement to repay arrears at a later date.
Where both parties agree to repay arrears, either via a one of payment or the spreading of arrears over the life of the lease, a landlord and tenant must agree to a plan in writing. All parties must abide by this arrangement and tenants must contact their landlord immediately if they are unable to do so.
Is there any additional support for buy-to-let landlords who rely on rental income to pay a mortgage?
Lenders have extended the offer of a three-month mortgage holiday to buy-to-let mortgage holders. If you cannot make mortgage payment due to a reduction in income then you should speak to your lender or mortgage broker to arrange a payment holiday that meets your requirements.
Can I let an empty property and allow tenants to move in?
Movement into new properties should be avoided unless already underway and cannot be delayed, according to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).
Its guidance says a contract must have been agreed prior to the Government’s COVID-19 restriction measures, and be unable to be delayed, for a person to move in.
This makes it much more difficult to market a property at this time. If a tenant is required to move in, then they should limit the number of people involved to prevent the spread of the virus.
The social distancing restrictions also make viewings and identity verification much tougher.
Can I conduct check-ins and check-outs? How does this affect the return of deposits?
Where a lease is due to end and you are required to conduct checks, these should involve as few people as possible. You will also need to consider the deposit. The Tenancy Deposit Scheme has published specific guidance on performing check-outs during the coronavirus pandemic, which can be found here.
Are property inspections still permitted?
By law, landlords must ensure their property is in a fit state of repair, which is why they are required to perform inspections. These inspections may not be possible under the current Government guidance, particularly where a person is self-isolating or shielding because they or a loved one is vulnerable.
Where a tenant informs you that they are self-isolating it may be advisable to cancel any planned inspections and rearrange them for a suitable time in the future.
Where you can perform an inspection, this should be arranged or conducted while a person is out of the home. If you cannot avoid an inspection, make sure you take all necessary precautions and follow Government guidance. You should make sure any changes to your normal inspection schedule is clearly documented.
What if I need to perform repairs?
Tenants have a number of implied rights to certain important repairs. However, it may not be possible to undertake repairs at this time.
Under these circumstances, you must document the reason you cannot carry out the repair to ensure that you have evidence.
Essential works, such as work on water supplies, sanitation and the supply of electricity and heating must be addressed.
In these cases, landlords, their representatives and tradespeople must follow Government guidance on social distancing while undertaking repairs.
Do I still have to meet tenants in person to perform a right to rent check?
Landlords are required by law to conduct a right to rent check that involves meeting the adult occupiers of their property in person before the tenancy is signed. During this meeting, they must check that all adult occupiers have a right to rent in England.
The Government has temporarily amended the right to rent rules so that landlords can:
- Ask the tenant to submit a scanned copy or a photo of their original documents electronically.
- Video call the tenant and ask them to hold up the original documents while the landlord checks them against the digital copy sent to them.
- Record the date the check was made and mark it as “an adjusted check has been undertaken on [date] due to COVID-19”
Checks performed in this way will have to be followed up by later check in-person to ensure they are compliant.
Can I still undertake gas safety checks?
It is a legal requirement for a rented property to have an up to date gas safety certificate. The Government has confirmed that gas safety inspections can go on as they are essential works, as long as social distancing guidance is followed.
Gas Safe has published guidance on how safety inspections can be done, which can be found here.
New electrical safety certificates were due to be introduced, are these still required?
Landlords will still have to have a qualified person inspect their property and provide an electrical installation report before 1 July 2020 for any new tenancies.
If this isn’t possible, landlords are advised to keep records of their attempts to arrange inspections and any obstructions that prevented one from being undertaken.
My energy performance certificate (EPC) is about to expire, should I renew it?
It is only a legal requirement to obtain a valid EPC when a property is being marketed and a new tenancy begins.
Where no new tenancy is due to begin, landlords are allowed to let an EPC lapse until the property is ready to be re-occupied.
Got more questions?
We understand that you may have questions that are specific to your own requirements and challenges. Our team of residential property experts are standing by to offer support and advice.