Rental Property Update on Coronavirus Act 2020 11 Apr 2020
Only essential moves can take place
What is classed as an “essential move”?
This is a move which NEEDS to happen for an urgent reason, such as a huge water leak that has flooded the property, the home occupier is a key worker and needs to be close to their place of work, domestic violence, gas leak or other property emergency that could endanger life and where the property is unfit for human habitation.
What is not classed as an “essential move”?
The landlord wants to sell the property and has served me notice to leave, I want to be closer to my family, I have signed a contract on another property, I am about to complete on a property I am buying. All cases like this must be put on hold until after the lockdown has ended.
Visiting an empty property
The COVID19 virus remains active on surfaces for 72 hours so if you need to make an essential visit to an empty property during the lockdown, please ensure that you leave 72 hours between visits from yourself and others and that you wipe down all obvious surfaces, especially doorknobs, handles, and window catches.
Can I do check-ins and check-outs?
An inventory and schedule of condition is not a legal requirement for a rental property, it is a ‘nice to have’ but not ‘essential’. If you can use the check-out from the previous tenant then do provide this electronically to your new tenants. You can ask them to FaceTime with you and walk around the property noting anything significant, but you should NOT meet at the property in person or send an inventory clerk to an appointment at this time.
We would suggest that as soon as the lockdown is over that you carry out a property visit / late check-in and agree this document for all parties at this time.
Should I return all of the deposit if a tenant leaves and there is no check-out?
Nobody should be moving during the lockdown unless it is essential (see above). If a tenant or tenants vacate and leave the property without agreement from all parties, you should not return the deposit until you have carried out the check-out AFTER the lockdown. There is no legal requirement to return the deposit to the tenant until 10 days after a sum has been agreed by the parties on the tenancy. If that agreement cannot be made until a check-out takes place (which cannot happen at the moment) then the vacating tenant needs to wait.
What is Essential Maintenance?
Essential maintenance is work covered by legislation, such as an annual gas safety record, from 1st July 2020, the electrical installation condition report (for new and renewed tenancies) and fire and safety alarm checks. However, if your tenant does not allow access to the property or you are unable to secure a tradesperson willing to undertake the work, you must be able to show that you did your utmost best in order to fulfill your legal responsibilities. Make file notes of any calls, letters, emails with tenants and tradespeople and ensure that you have the work carried out immediately that lockdown is over.
Please note that 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. Do not ask once and accept the response, do not only check with your usual engineer, make an effort to source alternative engineers or to explain your safety procedure to your tenants. Keep notes!
Get confirmation that the household is symptom free before carrying out work.
Please ensure that tenants / occupiers in the property sign to confirm that they are not showing symptoms of COVID-19 and have not been in contact with anyone showing symptoms. In addition, it is good practice to ask tenants / occupiers to move into the garden or into a room that your maintenance person does not need to enter.
Should I renew my EPC as it is about to expire?
The MEES legislation came into force on 1st April 2020 so it is now illegal to rent a property with an EPC rating below E. However, the EPC must be made available to your tenants when they show interest in the property initially, so prior to marketing / viewing – all of which is not taking place at the moment. Common sense would, therefore, assume that those people in rental accommodation where their current EPC is about to expire should have shown signs that their property had deteriorated and, if so, that the property would be unhabitable going forward. Otherwise, you should carry out the renewal of the EPC immediately when the lockdown is over.
How do I carry out Right to Rent checks during lockdown?
The ‘right to rent checks’ should be carried out physically in person with the original documents. However, the Government has announced that these checks are relaxed during the lockdown period but will need to be carried out again, in person, once the lockdown is over. For the time being, you should ask your ingoing tenant to produce their documentation on a video conference (Zoom, WhatApp, Facetime, Skype, etc) and confirm that you have done this and ensure you diarise to carry out the ‘in-person’ checks as soon as possible.
Should my tenant continue to pay rent during lockdown?
The Government has introduced a job retention scheme allowing employees to receive 80% of their income (basic & commission) during the lockdown period. This, coupled with the fact that people are not allowed out, that there is less opportunity for spending during the month, should ensure that your tenants can continue to pay their rent during this time. Whilst, during these difficult times, you may find a landlord who is able to offer a negotiated rental amount, it is advisable to go through the following process before embarking on this option:
However, every situation is different, so please listen to your tenant’s circumstances, ask them to provide you with a overview of their income vs. expenditure and see if there is anything that you can do to help them cut costs, prior to going to your landlord to ask for their assistance.
Martin Lewis tips for saving money are HERE.
#KeepTheRentFlowing is the mantra of our governing body ARLA Propertymark. If your tenant is asking for a “payment holiday’ the issue is that the rent will still be due, and they will be incurring a large debt to be paid before they vacate the property.
ARLA has stated that they are constantly lobbying the Government for financial assistance for those groups who appear to have “fallen outside of the net”. If therefore, you feel that your tenant’s situation is difficult and they will be unable to pay their rent, and, the landlord is not able to offer any assistance, please contact ARLA with the specific details and they will do their best to help.
Keep the Rent Flowing
Can the guarantor assist during COVID-19?
Absolutely! If the tenant is unable to pay the rent on time, and there is a guarantor for the tenancy, you should put them on notice of the situation as soon as possible. The guarantor has a legal obligation to take on the rent if the tenant is unable to pay, and quite often, they will help to sort the financial situation with the tenant at this difficult time.
We hope that the above answers many of your questions, but despite our offices being closed, we are working our usual office hours from our home-offices. Therefore, if you have any questions at all, please contact us on the normal numbers and your call will be diverted.
We have a Private Landlord Group on Facebook where Sara and the lettings team constantly keep our landlords up to date with legislation and the market situation.