Coronavirus Act 2020 – Guide for landlords and tenants 27 Apr 2020
Rental do's and don'ts during the lockdown
Just like the rest of the world, the property industry has had to adapt and change quickly in reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Coronavirus Act 2020 was raced through parliament to help provide clarity and certainty across lots of sectors, including lettings.
Here are the current guidelines, which will be helpful for both tenants and landlords alike.
Essential moves only
The government is classifying essential moves as those which must happen e.g. any situation which renders a property unfit to live in, or endangers life. This includes property maintenance issues such as flooding, but also includes those seeking to remove themselves from domestic violence.
The exceptions to the above are key workers, who might need to move closer to their place of work or temporarily move out of their homes to keep their families safe.
Non-essential moves have to be postponed until lockdown restrictions are lifted.
Scientific advice currently states that the Covid-19 virus can survive for up to 72 hours on surfaces. With this in mind, if you are a landlord needing to make an essential visit to an empty property it is important to make sure you wait 72 hours to visit a property after someone else has been in it – as far as that’s possible.
Also ensure you wipe down any surfaces which are obvious touch-points such as door handles, taps, and outside gate latches.
Check-ins and check-outs
Rental properties aren’t required by law to have inventories and scheduled conditions, they are on the nice-to-have list. With this in mind, you can do a digital walk round with tenants via a video call upon check-in, but no-one should be visiting properties in person to conduct an inventory check until restrictions are lifted.
Legally, landlords aren’t required to release deposits until ten days after a sum has been agreed by tenants. This means that if a tenant vacates the property without agreement from all properties, especially if the move is non essential, landlords have no obligation to return their deposit until restrictions are lifted and a check-out can be completed.
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.
Landlords, if your property is not managed by an agent and you are responsible for this, this is important. If you aren’t able to find a tradesperson willing to undertake this work, or your tenant refuses access to the property, you need to be able to prove that you attempted to fulfill your legal obligations to the best of your ability.
To the best of your ability is important here, you can be prosecuted for not conducting the annual gas safe record on a rental property unless you are able to provide proof that you did all you could in order to carry out the work. This means you can’t just phone one engineer and give up, you need to really try and keep records of all communication demonstrating your efforts.
Note: get signed confirmation that a household is symptom-free before arranging work. And any work which can’t be completed, carry it out immediately when lockdown is over.
Since MEES legislation came into force on the 1st April 2020, it’s now against the law to rent out a property with an EPC rating below E. However, the EPC must be made available to your tenants when they show an initial interest in the property before even viewing. It’s therefore safe to assume that those tenants living in a property where the EPC is about to expire, should have notified their landlord or agent if the property is for some reason no longer inhabitable. If they are remaining in the property, you should carry out the renewal of the EPC immediately as soon as it is safe to do so.
Right to rent checks
Right to rent checks usually involve checking documents in person. Whilst this currently isn’t possible, the rules surrounding right to rent checks have been temporarily relaxed and they are able to be conducted via video. However, proper 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 as soon as you are able to do so.
Should tenants still be paying rent?
With the job retention scheme being provided by the government, the majority of 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 and tenants should still be able to pay their rent.
However, every person’s situation is different and it is advisable to listen to 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 do so.
Guarantors have a legal obligation to take on rental payments if a tenant is unable to pay. You should notify them of the situation as soon as possible, as they may be able to offer the tenant extra financial support.
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