CORONAVIRUS - MANAGING YOUR PROPERTY

Introduction

As restrictions begin to lift in England, it will become easier to access your property to perform necessary works such as repairs and inspections.

As of 12 May, the Government has now published updated guidance on working in other people’s homes. This guidance will apply to any workers who enter your tenant’s property during the coronavirus pandemic. Our guide has now been updated with that in mind. In England, this has been accompanied by legislation that allows people to view properties in person, attend a lettings agency office or move into a home.


What is our position?

Everything needs to be done to keep contact between people to an absolute minimum. That is why we believe that there should be a temporary suspension of all but essential repairs and maintenance on rental properties to help control the virus.

To make it clearer for all parties, we are calling for a six month extension to the validity of all gas and electricity safety certificates expiring over the six months from 1st April, in line with the Government’s approach to MOTs.

We are also calling for a delay on the introduction of the requirement for routine Electrical Installation Condition Reports (due to come into force from 1st July) until 2021. This is because inspectors are by definition required to check wiring in all rooms of a property (in some cases over a number of hours) making it impossible for households to properly isolate or distance when an inspection is being carried out.

Downloadable landlord resources

To support our members, we are continuing to build a library of useful documents to assist landlords through the coronavirus pandemic.

These documents are exclusive content for our members along with the hundreds of other documents that are just one of the benefits of membership.

If you would like to join us then you can do so 
here.

Video resources

Watch the NRLA's Policy Director, Chris Norris, explain the latest updates on the re-opening of the lettings industry in England.

What are the general rules I should adhere to when entering my tenant’s property?

In general, the advice is to avoid entering the property unless the work cannot be done remotely or delayed until an appropriate time in the future. The Government has recently published guidance on the re-opening of the lettings industry and it asks all parties to consider what measures can be undertaken remotely to avoid unnecessary face to face encounters with tenants.

If you must enter the property you should ensure you are contacting your tenants ahead of schedule to outline the social distancing measures that need to be followed during your visit. When you have arrived you should remind them about these practices.

As you will be in a relatively confined space you should consider bringing a mask for while you work in the property. If you have employees performing the work for you, then you should supply them with masks as well.

You should ensure you clean your clothes before and after any visits to the property as there is some evidence that the coronavirus remains on fabric for some time.

Where the work will produce any waste you will need to arrange to have this removed with you when you leave the property.

In addition, if you have a number of employees, you should ensure that, as far as is practical, they are not swapping tools. In addition to this, where you have a number of employees you should allocate the work based on how close they live to the property where work is required.

How should I market and arrange property viewings in England?

In England, the market is now re-open. Provided all parties are following social distancing measures, tenants, landlords and agents are free to visit properties for viewings, moving in, cleaning the property after check-out, etc. Lettings agencies may also now re-open and tenants may leave the house to visit these offices too but practices involving viewings will have to change to account for coronavirus -

- Absolutely no in-property viewings should take place while the prospective or current tenants have any symptoms that are linked to coronavirus. 

- Initial viewings should be done virtually wherever possible. If tenants are still in residence, you should ask them to record a virtual tour of the property to accommodate this. If the property is vacant you may record the virtual tour yourself.

- All physical viewings should be arranged by appointment, limited to members of the same household and open house viewings should not take place. While these viewings are taking place, every effort should be made to ensure that nobody touches any surfaces in the property. In addition, while letting agents and landlords can accompany prospective tenants on a viewing they should ensure social distancing practices are followed as far as possible.

- If the current tenants are performing the viewing, they should also be provided with information on how to ensure they can follow social distancing practices while prospective tenants are in the property.

- Ideally, the property should be viewed after the tenant has surrendered the property. Where this is not possible, the tenants should go out for exercise during viewings, ensure the property is well ventilated with windows open before they leave, and clean the surfaces of the property with household cleaning products after the viewing is complete.

In addition, while properties in England may be visited for viewings, where there are tenants in residence, you should be mindful that they may not want people to visit their property at this time. If they do refuse access then you should wait until the property is vacant before arranging viewings.

How should I market and arrange property viewings in Wales?

For updates on Wales, see our specific coronavirus page for Wales.

How should I arrange check-ins and check-outs during this period?

Ideally, you should deal with as few people as possible during this period and try to minimise contact. Identify a lead tenant and arrange to meet them. Ensure the keys you provide have been cleaned appropriately before giving them to the new tenant.

Prior to check-in the property should be thoroughly clean to ensure the risk of contamination to new tenants is minimised.

For properties in England, where the tenants are moving in, they are advised to pack their belongings themselves and clean the boxes and belongings with household cleaning products before providing them to any removal firms.

For HMO properties this is more difficult. You should let any existing tenants know the time you will arrive so they can avoid the common parts and practice social distancing. It is also a good idea to provide tenants in shared accommodation with links to the Government’s guidance on sharing homes with anyone self-isolating in case anyone does start to develop symptoms.

TDS have also published some deposit-specific guidance on performing check-outs during the coronavirus pandemic as part of their regular blog series for the NRLA.

Should I continue to perform property inspections and visits during this period?

Landlords are still under a legal obligation to keep their property in repair and ensure any necessary inspections of the property are performed but this must be balanced against the risk of the infection or spread of the virus.

Where your visit is absolutely necessary you should ensure that you are following the Government’s guidance for people working in homes. Primarily this means communicating with the tenants prior to arrival, and on arrival, to ensure they understand the social distancing and hygiene measures that need to be followed during your visit.

Anyone self-isolating is advised to avoid having any visitors to their home. If the tenant informs you they are self-isolating, you should cancel any planned visits or inspections and rearrange them for a suitable time in the future. Ensure this is documented.

What if my tenant is self-isolating, and we need to repairs to the property?

Anyone self-isolating is advised to avoid any visitors to their home. This may affect landlords' ability to inspect properties or organise maintenance or repairs.

In these circumstances, we advise the landlord to keep a dialogue going with tenant. You should document the reason you cannot carry out the repair. Ask the tenant to explain in an email or writing that they are self-isolating and that they are advised not to allow visitors to the property.

If you need access for a repair, landlords need to make a judgement on the urgency of the situation. Any repairs that can be put off, should be put off. As the market re-opens, landlords should perform non-essential repairs and maintenance during the void period between tenants.

Essential works, such as water supply, sanitation and heating failure will still need to be addressed. Landlords, their representatives and tradespeople should ensure they are following the Government’s guidance on working in people’s homes while this work is performed.

If an urgent repair is identified, then you may enter the property with the permission of the tenant. You and any contractors present should ensure you are not symptomatic. In addition, you should follow all guidelines on social distancing and hand washing while the work or inspection is performed.

Contractors and tenants may also wish to contact Public Health England for further guidance when a property repair is required and the tenant is self-isolating.

I have to perform a right to rent check. Do I still have to meet the tenant in person?

The Home Office has now published guidance on the status of right to rent checks during the coronavirus pandemic. This guidance has made a number of significant, temporary changes to the right to rent regime.

Under normal circumstances, a right to rent check requires the landlord meet all adult occupiers in person before the tenancy is signed. At that meeting they check they have one, or potentially two valid documents to show they have a right to rent in England.

Under the temporary regime, landlords can instead –

  1. Ask the tenant to submit a scanned copy or a photo of their original documents electronically.
  2. 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.
  3. Record the date the check was made and mark it as “an adjusted check has been undertaken on [date] due to COVID-19”

Once the coronavirus emergency ends, landlords who have performed a check in this way will have to perform a follow up check in person to ensure they have fully complied. The date these follow up checks will be required has not been set yet.

My gas safety certificate is due to be renewed in the near future. What should I do?

Gas safety inspections can go on provided that everyone follows social distancing practices and the inspector, tenants, or landlord are not symptomatic at the time. However, there is a recognition this may be difficult to arrange due to shortages of inspectors as well as tenant's self-isolating or refusing access.

Gas Safe have now published updated guidance including worked examples for landlords to follow to ensure compliance on this. This guidance covers a number of scenarios that you will want to consider if you do need a gas safety certificate.

Where the tenant is vacating the property in the near future you are advised to perform the gas safety inspection during the void period as this is the best way to ensure the risk of infection is limited.

What if I can't have an inspection performed? 

Gas safety certificates can be obtained up to two months prior to the expiration of the existing one. Landlords are encouraged by Gas Safe to start trying to arrange an inspection as early as possible in that two month period. If it's not possible to arrange an inspection then it should be documented. documentation should show that the landlord has tried to contact a number (most likely 5 or 6) of inspectors who were all unable to allocate an appointment.

Similarly, if the tenant refuses access then this should be documented with evidence the landlord has tried to accommodate suitable dates for the tenant.

For example, if the tenant refuses because they are self-isolating due to symptoms then the landlord should try and arrange a new check to be done 14 days after the household first shows symptoms. Provided the landlord has made three genuine efforts to arrange access and documented it this should be enough to provide sufficient excuse to the HSE.

Will the upcoming electrical safety certificate requirements be suspended?

No, landlords are still expected to have a qualified person inspect their property and get an electrical installation report before July 1st 2020 for new tenancies.

However, guidance for local authorities recognises it may not be possible to perform these checks during the pandemic. Landlords are encouraged to keep records of their attempts to arrange inspections and any obstructions to performing a check.

Regardless, where tenants are not self-isolating and the landlord can find a qualified person to do the work, landlords should be having the check performed.

My energy performance certificate (EPC) is about to expire, do I need to renew it?

The Government has now published its guidance on EPC requirements during the coronavirus pandemic. It makes it clear that EPCs can still be performed and it is still a legal requirement during this period.

Firstly, you should consider whether you need an EPC before trying to arrange an appointment. As it is a legal requirement for marketing a property, a landlord is only required to have a valid EPC at the point a tenancy begins. As a result, if there is no new tenancy created then you can, and should, allow your EPC to lapse rather than arranging for an inspection.

For the avoidance of doubt, a new tenancy is created in three ways –

  • A new tenant moves into the property leading to a new agreement with different people. 
  • A tenancy agreement with existing tenants is renewed by offering a new contract. 
  • At the end of the fixed term of a tenancy, the agreement is replaced by a statutory periodic tenancy (members can call the advice line on 03330 142 998 to check whether this is the case). 

Where tenants are moving into the property you are advised to arrange a suitable void period to allow for necessary inspections and non-essential maintenance to be performed. This includes EPCs.

If your existing tenants are replacing their current tenancy with a renewal or statutory periodic tenancy you will have to arrange an appointment, but everybody must be mindful of the Government's guidance on staying alert, working in other people's homes and moving during the coronavirus restrictions.

If anyone in the household or the contractor is symptomatic, no work should be carried out unless it is to remedy a direct risk to a household. Where someone in the household is shielding due to risk factors, an inspection can still go ahead but the tenant must be contacted ahead of time to ensure there is no face-to-face contact. 

Will local authorities continue to enforce property conditions and licences during this time?

The government’s guidance for local authorities encourages them to take a pragmatic, risk-based approach to enforcement during this time.  

What additional support can I provide to support vulnerable tenants?

Those that are living alone or with cognitive difficulties such as dementia may not know how or be able to get the essentials they need, such as food and medication. This could lead to malnutrition or other medical issues while they self-isolate.

In addition, with many living away from their families, they may face chronic loneliness during this period of self-isolation. This has potentially serious long term effects on their health.

You may be able to support them in a number of ways.

Higher risk individuals may need assistance with receiving food and medicine during this period. Many people are volunteering to assist with deliveries of these items. If you wish to do this, you should reach out to your tenants to offer your assistance and liaise with them as to the best method of delivering items without physical contact. Where you do visit the property, it is essential you continue to practice social distancing measures.

Communication can be challenging for people with other conditions, such as dementia. Think about whether the best ways to get in contact are by phone, email, video chat or letter and remember that not everyone is online. If you have no luck getting in touch with your tenant, you could consider getting in touch with their emergency contact to arrange support via them.

You can also provide support by keeping in touch through regular phone calls, letters or emails. For some tenants, this could be the only social interaction they have.

Be proactive about getting in touch with your tenants as they may not approach you even if they need the help.

Where should I signpost my vulnerable tenants?

There are a number of resources available to help self-isolating tenants that you can point your tenants towards.
 
For example, you can make sure your tenants know about their local 
Covid Mutual-Aid community group to arrange food deliveries.
 
For older tenants or those with dementia, the following numbers may be useful for you and them.

Alzheimer’s Society

English: 0333 150 3456

Welsh speakers: 03300 947 400
 
Age UK

Advice Line: 0800 169 65 65
 
You can also provide your tenants with the phone numbers for local shops and convenience stores so they can call up to place a delivery. Where tenants don’t feel confident placing their own deliveries, you could offer to place the delivery on their behalf.
 
Finally, the local authority may be able to help with non-medical care. It may be worth providing their contact details as well.

I manage a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO). As part of my management duties I employ a cleaner and a gardener. Should they still continue to visit the property?

Tradespeople can visit the property to perform work provided they are following the Government’s guidance on working in someone else’s home. Where they are visiting the property, this should be by appointment and tenants should be advised to avoid contact by staying in their room or exercising during their visit.

My tenant has asked to end the tenancy early because their circumstances have changed due to the outbreak. How should I respond?

Some tenants may ask their landlord to end their tenancy early. Typically, this can occur where a university or college has suspended courses or teaching or a job contract has ended unexpectedly or without notice due to the coronavirus outbreak.

While you legally could enforce the terms of the tenancy and claim rent for the remaining period, it may be better to negotiate an end to the tenancy with the tenant or arrange a rent holiday with the tenant. Void periods are likely to increase over this period and it may be difficult to relet the property at this time. However, you are under no obligations to accept this if you do not want to.

The Government has announced that lenders will offer mortgage holidays for landlords with tenants affected by the coronavirus which is covered in a separate guide.

Due to early closures of universities, many students are leaving my property early. What can I do?

Contracts are still binding in these cases. You should remind the tenants of their obligations and, where necessary, contact their guarantors to inform them you plan to recoup the lost rent. If you do you should find out if they are suffering from any short term financial problems due to coronavirus.

If they are, it is worth remembering that landlords have up to six years to chase any outstanding debt. You are advised to wait until the coronavirus emergency is over before actively pursuing tenants and guarantors through the courts.

My tenant was set to leave the property but has now wants to stay as they need to self-isolate. What should I do?

Landlords are encouraged to be understanding here where possible. While a valid notice will bring the tenancy to an end, the reality is it will be very difficult to enforce at this time with the stay on possession cases.

What should I do if I believe my tenant may have died during the pandemic?

If one of your tenants sadly passes away during the pandemic there are a number of steps you should take. 

First and Foremost

If the tenant lived alone and assuming you were not the person who discovered that they had passed away (in which case you obviously contact the emergency services) you should get in touch with their next of kin or their emergency contact, or share their contact information with the emergency services who will do this.

If the deceased shared a property you will obviously also need to liaise with the other tenants. If the tenant had shown symptoms of the virus before their death and therefore may have died from it as opposed to other causes, the other tenants will be very concerned about their own health. You should recommend that they self-isolate for the recommended period (14 days) and undertake a deep clean of the property to reassure them.

You will need to liaise with the next of kin for them to have access to collect the deceased belongings. Remember, they have lost a loved one, so be as sensitive as possible. The other tenants should remain in their rooms whilst this is happening.

What Is the Legal Position Regarding the Tenancy

A tenant's death does not end the tenancy automatically. Instead, the right to end the tenancy will pass on to a number of different people depending on the circumstances and the tenancy type.

If the deceased was on a joint tenancy, the law says the remaining tenants will still hold the tenancy and be expected to pay the rent for the property. Bearing in mind the current situation, the fact that you will not be able to fill the void until after the lockdown and also that the other tenants may be facing financial difficulties, you should discuss this with them. As much as possible you should be flexible and, if necessary, arrange a payment plan involving a deferment or reduction of the rent to allow for one tenant not contributing.

Where the deceased was the sole tenant but their spouse or civil partner was also using the property as their main home prior to the death, the law says that they will succeed to the tenancy on the same terms as before. It may be wise to arrange to formalise the relationship with a new tenancy agreement to help support the remaining tenants with benefits claims they may need to make.

If the tenant lived alone on a sole tenancy, where there is a will you should try to establish who the executor of the will is as they will be able to legally terminate the tenancy.

The next of kin or the emergency contact should give you some idea who this will be.

Where the tenant has died intestate (without a will) or without an executor the tenancy will pass to the Public Trustee. You should follow their guidance on ending the tenancy.

 


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