Q&As for landlords during Coronavirus

publication date: Apr 2, 2020
 | 
author/source: Kate Faulkner, Property Expert and Author of Which? Property Books

Q&As for landlords during Coronavirus

 

The Government has issued guidance to landlords, tenants the local authorities who ‘police’ lets in their area and renting guidance for landlords, tenants and local authoritiesWales has also provided information for tenants, landlords and agents and from Rent Smart Wales.

This information should answer all your questions, our Q&As below are more of a summary for the key questions asked, but always refer to the documents above and if necessary, quote from these documents to tenants.

The next few weeks and months will be an incredibly testing time for landlords. One of the best things I have seen to help survive is landlords contacting by letter/email or even ringing all their tenants to chat through their personal circumstances so they understand how vulnerable they are. This means you get an idea very quickly of your tenants that are OK and going to be sensible and fair during this period, the ones who will try to take advantage, those that are vulnerable and may need extra care from you or room-mates and those that are really suffering, for example are poorly or lost their job and are very scared.

It is also worth sending the following Government guidance to all your tenants as it is well written and quite comprehensive: MHCLG - Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance for Landlords and Tenants.

Although you can issue eviction notices for three months’ time, this may be extended until 30th September 2020, meaning you cannot take any court action. Realistically there is going to be an enormous log jam from the summer onwards, (see: Q&As for more detail) it is essential to try and mediate and agree with your tenants what you can and can’t do to help them and the importance of everyone adhering to the Government guidelines.

If you have a different question and can’t find the answer in the Government guidance, please feel free to contact us.

The Q&A information relates mainly to England, mostly to Wales, but not to Scotland and Northern Ireland.

 

Top 10 Q&As for landlords

What can I do if my tenant leaves?
Many landlords lost tenants when countries were locking down, be it students going home or people from abroad wanting to be back in their own country. Some tenants were good and discussed this with the landlord, agreeing on payment, while others disappeared without a word and not paid anything or at best suggested the landlord keeps the deposit. If they have returned abroad it is probably not worth pursuing.

From a student perspective, some corporate landlords eg at Nottingham and Sheffield, have already cancelled payments for the next term and private landlords would be wise to try and find a deal for students. Obviously this will be easier for some than others, but these are difficult times and everyone needs to find a way that both sides can live with. Remember, courts are currently closed, so it will be months and possibly take until 2021 for any action to take place.

Can I let a property during the stay at home measures? 
Firstly, viewings cannot take place as this is considered ‘non-essential’ during the stay at home measures. However, government guidance is “to move house where reasonably necessary” in other words if viewings have already taken place and a contract already signed and added to this, the tenants/family would be homeless if the move doesn’t go ahead or they may be a key worker moving to help in the NHS, it is possible for the let to go ahead, but only if essential.

For shared homes, even if they are happy to rent the room without viewing it. Bringing a new tenant in can cause all sorts of problems. They may turn out to be badly behaved, bring visitors around, not abide by the government guidelines and put your other tenants at risk and you will struggle to evict them via the courts or any other method, bearing in mind the social distancing guidelines.

If keys are being handed over, then they need to be disinfected prior to doing so and it would be wise for the new tenant to do a deep clean on the property and ideally leave the property empty for 72 hours. Here is the government guidance on cleaning.

Right to rent checks
If someone does have to be moved in during stay at home measures or beyond, right to rent checks have changed during Coronavirus:- 


As of 30 March 2020:
Checks can now be carried out over video calls

Tenants can send scanned documents or a photo of documents for checks using email or a mobile app, rather than sending originals

Landlords should use the Landlord’s Checking Service if a prospective or existing tenant cannot provide any of the existing documents

For more information visit: Landlord right to rent checks

What if my tenant doesn’t pay their rent? 
There appear to be three types of tenants. Firstly, those that are continuing to pay their rent, then those who genuinely cant and have lost jobs or are sick and then there are those that are just trying to use this as an excuse not to pay. If a tenant has been furloughed, they should get 80% of their salary and some firms are topping up the 20%, so they should still be able to pay rent.

The important thing is to talk to all your tenants and firstly advise them that there is help available to help them afford the rent – or as much as they can. This is where they need to look: Support for those affected by COVID-19As a landlord it is worth understanding which ones of these would apply to your tenant and if required, how to help them apply or suggest they speak to the local housing team who have access to further funds.

If your tenant still asks for a rent reduction, do your due diligence, so ask them for:-

  • Statutory sick note
  • Evidence of job loss
  • Evidence of fall in income


It is also important to agree with the tenant a payment plan to repay the lost rent if possible, unless you are happy and able to allow a discount during this period.

If you are having difficulties with tenants, contact Landlord Action expert eviction solicitors for help, they are running a mediation service during this time.

Can I apply for a ‘mortgage holiday’ 
Firstly, calling it a ‘mortgage holiday’ is a poor use of words, for me it’s a break. But all lenders have been asked to allow this to happen for homeowners and buy to let investors with mortgages. Some landlords have reported being ‘refused’ by lenders, this may be because the lenders haven’t had much time to put in place and explain to staff about the mortgage breaks available, so give them time and this should be sorted. Speak to them and advise them that the government has agreed with all lenders that this break is allowed.

BUT, please be aware you will not only still have to pay the mortgage money you have deferred back, but also any additional interest you owe. There are other ways you can reduce the money you owe, for example, move to interest only, pay what you can afford or add the months you defer on to the end of your mortgage. As interest rates have changed, this is a perfect time to talk to a broker to check any mortgage deal and then you can discuss the best way to secure some help over the coming months.

How do people self-isolate in a shared property?
For people who are in shared homes, this is really difficult but I’ve seen some great examples of tenants drawing up rotas and advising other tenants via things like WhatsApp of when they have left the kitchen/bathroom etc. Many landlords have delivered cleaning equipment for tenants to stay safe.

If there is a tenant that is not ‘playing ball’ then it is worth sending a simple, polite letter or email advising tenants of their responsibilities, or a phone conversation. If that doesn’t work, then contact Landlord Action expert eviction solicitors. Worse case you can start eviction procedures, but you won’t be able to start eviction procedures via the courts for three months.

Although this is written for tenants in Wales, apart from the key differences, there is lots of good information in here.

Do I still supply a cleaner to a property? 
Most landlords have stopped cleaners going into properties and supplied cleaning equipment for the tenants. If it is part of the service, some landlords have reduced the rent to reflect this.

What if I have issued an eviction notice? 
If you have issued any of the following notices:-

1. The Section 21 process (Assured Shorthold Tenancies)
2. The Section 8 process (Assured and Assured Shorthold Tenancies)
3. Notices under section 83 of the Housing Act 1985 seeking possession of property let under a secure tenancy

Unfortunately the courts have closed for the foreseeable future, even if you had issued it before the stay at home measures, so it won’t be progressed for at least 90 days from 27th March 2020. These changes apply to “secure, assured, assured shorthold, introductory and demoted tenancies and tenancies under the Rents Act 1977, thereby covering most tenants in the private and social rented sectors.” Source: MHCLG 

If you have any rent guarantee insurance, then it may be worth making a claim.

There is likely to be a huge back log by June of cases, so sadly it would be wise to make sure you have the cash flow to deal with waiting many more months than planned to secure your property back or any claim.

This is an extremely tough time for landlords who are having to evict tenants due to non-payment of rent or causing a nuisance to neighbours or other tenants as there is little you can do until the courts re-open, but try to negotiate with the tenant. If you have any rent guarantee insurance, then it may be worth making a claim.

As these are unusual times, with new and temporary laws applying, then I would suggest you use expert eviction solicitors such as Landlord Action expert eviction solicitors.

What if I want to issue an eviction notice?
In England and Wales, claims can still be sent to court and they should be ‘issued’ but they will not be dealt with until late June at the earliest at which point there will be a big backlog of current cases.

This applies to “secure, assured, assured shorthold, introductory and demoted tenancies and tenancies under the Rents Act 1977, thereby covering most tenants in the private and social rented sectors.” Source: gov.Wales, you cannot start court proceedings until after three months (normally two).

If you are a live in landlord or tenants are on a license, you can still evict, but this goes against government guidelines of people moving only if absolutely necessary. The government guidance is:-

“We are urging the landlords of those on licences to occupy to follow the same guidance and to work with renters who may be facing hardship as a result of the response to COVID-19.” Source: MHCLG

According to the expert eviction solicitors Landlord Action, there is likely to a pre-action protocol announced at some point which will require landlords to engage with tenants and suggest some form of ADR before issuing a court claim. We wait to see exactly what the protocol says, but in the meantime if you can negotiate a deal with your tenant it would be better than relying on the courts.

This is an extremely tough time for landlords who are having to evict tenants due to non-payment of rent or causing a nuisance to neighbours or other tenants as there is little you can do until the courts re-open, but try to negotiate with the tenant. If you have any rent guarantee insurance, then it may be worth making a claim.

As these are unusual times, with new and temporary laws applying, then I would suggest you use expert eviction solicitors such as Landlord Action.

Do I have to carry out safety checks during stay at home measures? 
According to the government guidance, during Coronavirus:-

“Tenants have a right to a decent, warm and safe place to live - it is in the best interests of both tenants and landlords to ensure that properties are kept in good repair and free from hazards.”


“It has never been more important that landlords and tenants take a pragmatic, common sense approach to resolving issues. Tenants should let their landlords know early if there is a problem and landlords should take the appropriate action.”


However:-
“This should mean that tenants who are living with serious hazards that a landlord has failed to remedy can still be assured of local authority support. Landlords should also know they should not be unfairly penalised where COVID-19 restrictions prevent them from meeting some routine obligations.”

As long as the certificates, repairs and maintenance can take place within the government guidelines they should do so. However, bear in mind that people are getting sick and this can reduce the number of tradespeople available. As a result, book the safety certificates you can as much in advance as possible.

For further information on getting work done, visit the Government guidance on work carried out in people's homes

Beware! New electrical safety rules for privately rented properties
The new Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector Regulations 2020 were made on 18th March and will apply to all new tenancies on 1st July 2020 and for existing tenancies on 1st April 2021. 

The Electrical Safety Regulations will require landlords to:

  • Have the electrical installations in their properties inspected and tested by a person who is qualified and competent, at least every five years;
  • Provide a copy of the report (known as the Electrical Safety Condition Report or EICR) to their tenants, and to the local authority if requested.
  • If the EICR requires investigative or remedial works, landlords will have to carry this out.


Source: MHCLG

 

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