Important Information for Landlords & Tenants during COVID-19

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance for Landlords and Tenants

See the NHS website for health advice

  1. Rent, mortgage payments and possession proceedings

1.1 As a tenant, should I stop paying rent during the outbreak?

  • Tenants should continue to pay rent and abide by all other terms of their tenancy agreement to the best of their ability. The government has a strong package of financial support available to tenants, and where they can pay the rent as normal, they should do. Tenants who are unable to do so should speak to their landlord at the earliest opportunity.
  • In many if not most cases, the COVID-19 outbreak will not affect tenants’ ability to pay rent. If your ability to pay will be affected, it’s important to have an early conversation with your landlord. Rent levels agreed in your tenancy agreement remain legally due and you should discuss with your landlord if you are in difficulty.

1.2 What can I do about rent arrears?

  • Tenants should continue to pay rent and abide by all other terms of their tenancy agreement to the best of their ability. Tenants who are unable to do so should speak to their landlord at the earliest opportunity.
  • As part of the national effort to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak it’s important that landlords offer support and understanding to tenants who may start to see their income fluctuate.
  • An early conversation between landlord and tenant can help both parties to agree a plan if tenants are struggling to pay their rent. This can include reaching a temporary agreement not to seek possession for a period of time and instead accept a lower level of rent, or agree a plan to pay off arrears at a later date. Where a landlord does choose to serve notice seeking possession for rent arrears or has done so already, the notice period and any further action will be affected by legislation lengthening the notice period and/or the suspension of possession claims.
  • If a landlord and tenant agree a plan to pay off arrears at a later date, it is important they both stick to this plan and that tenants talk to their landlord immediately if they are unable to do so.
  • If a tenant is worried about being unable to pay their rent, or if landlords become aware of tenants who may be in difficulty, advice is available from specialist providers such Shelter, Citizens Advice and The Money Advice Service.
  • Local authorities can provide support for tenants to stay in their homes. If you are experiencing financial hardship, you may be able to access new funding; we have already made £500m available to fund households experiencing financial hardship and are determined to take action to support people in need.
  • You can also find more information on Government support for employers and employees here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-toemployers-and-businesses-about-covid-19
  • If you are worried about being evicted and not having anywhere else to go, you should speak to your local authority.
  • If you fall into financial difficulties due to a change in your employment or earnings, for example, you may qualify for Universal Credit. Property Guardian licence agreements are a valid tenancy arrangement for receiving housing costs support in Universal Credit. Find more information about Universal Credit at https://www.gov.uk/how-to-claim-universal-credit.
  • The Coronavirus Act 2020 means that landlords who do issue notices seeking possession will not be able to progress any further before the expiry of the notice. All notices for both the private and social rented sector tenancies are for three months.

1.3 Protections for tenants under the Coronavirus Act 2020, in force from 26 March 2020.

  • The Coronavirus Act 2020 protects most tenants and secure licensees in the private and social rented sectors by putting measures in place that say where landlords do need to issue notices seeking possession –  the notice period must be for three months. Landlords can choose to give a longer notice period. From 27th March, any claims in the system or about to go into the system will be affected by a 90 day suspension of possession hearings and orders.
  • At the expiry of the three-month notice, a landlord cannot force a tenant to leave their home without a court order. When the three-month notice period expires, a landlord would still need to take court action if the tenant was unable to move.

1.4 What can I do about mortgage repayments?

  • Mortgage lenders have agreed to offer payment holidays of up to three months where this is needed due to Coronavirus-related hardship, including for buy-to-let mortgages. The sum owed remains and mortgages continue to accrue interest during this period.
  • Where a tenant is unable to pay their rent in full the landlord – if a mortgagor – should discuss this with their lender.

1.5 I’m a shared owner, how does this affect me?

  • Most shared owners will pay both rent and a mortgage. Like other mortgage holders, shared owners who are struggling to meet their mortgage payments as a result of Covid-19 will be able to request a mortgage payment holiday from their lender. Most shared owners will also be covered by the new Coronavirus Act 2020, meaning their landlords will not be able to start possession proceedings unless they have given shared owners three-month’s notice.
  • Shared owners should continue to meet their financial commitments where possible. The Government has introduced a strong package of financial support, so where they can, shared owners should still pay the rent to their landlord and mortgage to their lender as normal. Shared owners who are unable to do so should speak to their landlord and mortgage provider at the earliest opportunity.

1.6 As a landlord, should I stop charging rent during the outbreak?

  • Landlords are not required to do this. Most tenants will be able to pay rent as normal and should continue to do so, as they will remain liable for the rent during this period.
  • There is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach, as each tenant’s circumstance is different and some will be worse affected in terms of their ability to pay than others. It is important for landlords to be flexible and have a frank and open conversation with their tenants at the earliest opportunity, to allow both parties to agree a sensible way forward.

1.8 I have a licence to occupy, am I protected by the Coronavirus Act?

  • This legislation only applies to tenants so will not apply to licences to occupy (other than a secure licence under the Housing Act 1985).
  • Government has put in place an unprecedented support package to help prevent people getting into financial hardship or rent arrears, including support for business to pay staff salaries, as well as important changes to statutory sick pay and the benefits system.

1.9 I have lost my job which came with accommodation and they have told me I have to move out. What rights do I have?

  • You may be covered by the new legislation depending on the type of tenancy that you hold.
  • If your place of employment requires you to live-in to be able to do the job, or the occupation of the accommodation is necessary for the performance of your duties, and your contract clearly states this, you are classed as a “service occupier”. This will include some teachers in boarding schools, caretakers, carers and hotel staff, for example. As you do not have a tenancy in this situation you are not covered by this emergency legislation.
  • If you are not a tenant and your employer wants to end your employment because you are no longer required (rather than due to misconduct) they should tell you at least one week in advance. Check your employment contract as it may set out how much notice you should be given. Your landlord will usually have to apply to the court for a possession order if you do not leave when the notice period expires. Given the extraordinary circumstances, we recommend discussing the issue with your employer and that employers are as flexible and understanding as possible.
  • If you have a job that offers self-contained accommodation, but it is not a requirement as part of the job and your landlord is not a local authority, you may hold a tenancy regulated by the Housing Act 1988. If so, this will be covered by the change in legislation.
  • If you’re living in accommodation provided by the local authority, you are an employee of the council, and your contract of employment requires you to live in the accommodation for the better performance of your duties, your tenancy is a nonsecure tenancy under the Housing Act 1985. These new provisions will also not apply to you.
  • If your local authority employer wants to end your service tenancy because they no longer require your services they must give you at least four weeks’ notice. Check your employment contract as it may set out how much notice you should be given. Your landlord will usually have to apply to the court for a possession order if you do not leave when the notice period expires.

1.10 I’m a property guardian, how do I know if I’ve got a licence or a tenancy?

  • Property guardianship agreements are usually offered on a contractual licence to occupy. The licence will provide the right to occupy premises in return for the payment of a licence fee or performance of a service. In law, a licence usually arises when there is no right to exclusive possession or there is no intention to enter into a legal relationship of landlord and tenant. However, if the licensee has exclusive possession, it may be a tenancy, even if the agreement calls it a licence.

1.11 Do I have to move if my landlord does not have a court order?

  • If you are a tenant, the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 means that you cannot be forced to leave your home without a court order and warrant for execution of that order. The 1977 Act also protects some people who occupy their home under a licence. Breaches of the Act can give rise to a civil action and be a criminal offence.
  • Even where the Protection from Eviction Act does not apply a landlord cannot use violence or threat of violence to evict someone..

  1. Court action on housing possession cases during the coronavirus outbreak
  • In addition to the measures in the Coronavirus Act 2020 set out above, the Courts have issued a Practice Direction to stop possession claims from progressing.
  • The suspension will apply for 90 days from 27th March 2020, to all housing possessions proceedings in the rented, leasehold and home ownership sectors.

2.1 What does this mean for landlords and tenants in the private or social rented sectors?

  • If you have already been issued with notice of your landlord’s intention to seek possession of the property or if you are issued notice in the next 90 days, your landlord will not be able to take action through the courts to make you move. This suspension will initially apply for 90 days from the 27th March.
  • For landlords, this will mean not expecting tenants to move even where you have already issued notice of your intention to regain possession of the property, or if you go on to issue notice for any reason during the next three months.

2.2 Who is covered by the suspension of housing possession cases?

  • All tenants and licensees who benefit from protection from eviction under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 will be protected from possession proceedings by this measure.
  • All housing possession orders covered by Civil Procedure Rules Part 55 will be covered.
  • The suspension of housing possession cases will also apply to possession cases brought by mortgagees against homeowners, and to possession cases brought by landlords against leaseholders (forfeiture).
  • If you are unsure what kind of tenancy you have and whether you will be protected by the suspension on notice periods, you should take independent legal advice. Shelter’s housing advice line and Citizens’ Advice may be able to help.

2.4 How does the Coronavirus Act 2020 interact with the courts suspending housing possession claims?

  • This means landlords will not be able to progress any claims where they have already issued a notice seeking possession for a 90 day period (subject to review).
  • This new measure applies to cases currently in progress and cases where a landlord or mortgage company has already commenced possession proceedings on expiry of a notice seeking possession.
  • A tenant issued with a three-month notice immediately after the Coronavirus Act 2020 comes into force would see that notice expire in three months. At the expiry of the notice, a landlord who wanted to take the next steps in progressing the possession claim would have to apply to the courts for a possession hearing, a process that ordinarily takes 6-8 weeks, and may take much longer under the current circumstances.
  • The legislation covering notice periods is in force until 30 September 2020 and is subject to review and may be extended by secondary legislation.

  1. Property access and health and safety obligations

The Government is asking everyone to do all they can to help stop coronavirus spreading and has published advice on maintaining strict separation from others wherever possible during this unprecedented time. You can see the latest Government guidance on Coronavirus here https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus.

The Government is committed to helping to ensure that everyone renting their home has a safe and decent place to live. As part of the national effort to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak it’s vital that local authorities, landlords and tenants work together to keep rented properties safe. We continue to support the positive partnership between landlords and tenants which underpins all well-functioning tenancies.

Tenants should let their landlords know early if there is a problem and landlords should take the appropriate action.

We understand current restrictions may prevent routine and obligatory inspections. Landlords should also know they should not be unfairly penalised where COVID-19 restrictions prevent them from meeting some routine obligations.

Tenants

3.1 What does this mean for repairs in my home?

  • Landlords’ repair obligations have not changed.
  • You should inform your landlord early and engage constructively in the event that you encounter any issues with the condition of their property, and the effect of current restrictions should be considered.
  • In these unprecedented times we encourage tenants and landlords to take a pragmatic, common-sense approach to non-urgent issues which are affected by COVID-19 related restrictions.

3.2 What if my boiler breaks, or something else happens which is an urgent risk to my health?

  • Landlords’ repair obligations have not changed.
  • Where reasonable, safe for you and in line with other Government guidance, we recommend that you allow local authorities, landlords or contractors access to your property in order to inspect or remedy urgent health and safety issues.
  • Urgent health and safety issues are those which will affect your ability to live safely and maintain your mental and physical health in your home. This could include (but is not limited to):
    • If there is a problem with the fabric of your building, for example the roof is leaking
    • If your boiler is broken, leaving you without heating or hot water
    • If there is a plumbing issue, meaning you don’t have washing or toilet facilities
    • If your white goods such as fridge or washing machine have broken, meaning you are unable to wash clothes or store food safely
    • If there is a security-critical problem, such as a broken window or external door
    • If equipment a disabled person relies on requires installation or repair
  • You can find further guidance on visits to properties to make repairs here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/further-businesses-and-premises-toclose/further-businesses-and-premises-to-close-guidance#work-carried-out-inpeoples-homes
  • You must continue to meet your legal and contractual obligations as a tenant, including paying rent where you are able to.

3.3 What about the risk of catching the virus, or if I am symptomatic?

  • You must follow sensible precautions to keep yourself safe when contractors or others are visiting your property, as outlined in public health guidance found here www.gov.uk/coronavirus
  • Where an issue is critical to your health and safety, we strongly advise you take additional measures such as remaining in separate rooms during any visits and following Government advice on hygiene and cleanliness before, during and after visits.
  • You do not need to have direct contact with anyone visiting your property to carry out repairs.

3.4 My landlord wants access to my property to conduct viewings for sale or letting, do I have to let them in?

  • You and your landlord should follow the Government’s latest guidance necessary to help stop the spread of the virus which you can find here https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus

3.5 What if I have a move planned?

3.6 What should I do if I think I may have the virus?

  • You should follow Government guidance on self-isolation, which you can find here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-stay-at-home-guidance
  • You should tell anyone you share the property with immediately, so that they can take appropriate action and make informed decisions regarding shared areas and access to the property. If your landlord needs to arrange a visit to the property for urgent health and safety reasons, you should also inform them and agree to take sensible precautions.

3.7 Someone in my House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) has the virus, is my landlord obliged to remove them or find me another place to stay?

 

Landlords

3.8 What does the current situation mean for repairs to my property?

  • Landlords’ repair obligations have not changed.
  • We are encouraging tenants to inform landlords early and engage constructively in the event that they encounter any issues with the condition of the property.
  • Where reasonable and safe for you and in line with other Government guidance, you should make every effort to review and address issues brought to your attention by your tenants, and keep records of your efforts. You can find further guidance on visiting properties to make repairs here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/further-businesses-and-premises-toclose/further-businesses-and-premises-to-close-guidance
  • Inspectors or maintenance workers can still visit blocks of flats and multi-occupied properties for essential or urgent work such as inspecting and testing fire alarm and emergency lighting systems.
  • Urgent health and safety issues are those which will affect your tenant’s ability to live safely and maintain their mental and physical health in the property. This could include (but is not limited to):
    • If there is a problem with the fabric of the building, for example the roof is leaking
    • If your boiler is broken, leaving your tenant without heating or hot water
    • If there is a plumbing issue, meaning your tenant does not have washing or toilet facilities
    • If the white goods such as fridge or washing machine have broken, meaning the tenant is unable to wash clothes or store food safely
    • If there is a security-critical problem, such as a broken window or external door
    • If equipment a disabled person relies on requires installation or repair

3.9 What about my legal obligations to provide regular Gas and Electrical Safety inspections? Will I be prosecuted if I can’t get access the property because I or my tenants are self-isolating?

  • Landlords must provide tenants with all necessary Gas and Electrical Safety and any other relevant certification at the beginning of a tenancy (and carry out all scheduled inspections and tests where required).
  • Landlords should make every effort to abide by existing gas safety regulations and electrical safety regulations which come into force on 1st July.
  • You can read the latest guidance for landlords and Gas Safe Engineers and Inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive here https://www.gassaferegister.co.uk/help-and-advice/covid-19-advice-and-guidance/
  • If you are not able to gain access to the property due to restrictions in place to tackle COVID-19, or are not able to engage a contractor to carry out the necessary work, we recommend you document your attempts to do so and all correspondence with your tenants.

Electrical and Gas Safety in 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.

 

The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 require landlords to have annual gas safety check on each appliance and flue carried out by engineer registered with the Gas Safe Register and to keep a record of each safety check. Further advice can be found on the Gas Safe Register’s website at https://www.gassaferegister.co.uk/help-and-advice/covid19-advice-and-guidance/.

Both regulations are clear on the issue of compliance. If a landlord can show they have taken all reasonable steps to comply with their duty under the regulations, they are not in breach of the duty. With regards to the Electrical Safety Regulations a landlord would not be in breach of the duty to comply with a remedial notice and with regards to the Gas Safety Regulations a landlord would not be liable for an offence.

A landlord could show reasonable steps by keeping copies of all communications they have had with their tenants and with electricians as they tried to arrange the work, including any replies they have had. Landlords may also want to provide other evidence they have that the installation, appliance or flue is in a good condition while they attempt to arrange works.

 

3.10 What about the risk of catching the virus?

3.11 What about access to a property to conduct viewings or where a move is scheduled?

3.12 Someone in my House in Multiple Occupation has the virus, am I obliged to remove them or find my tenants another place to stay?

3.13 My property is in an area subject to selective or additional licensing. What is going to happen to it?

  • The Government is encouraging local authorities to take a common-sense, pragmatic approach to enforcement during these unprecedented circumstances.
  • This includes considering pausing the introduction of non-mandatory licensing schemes where this will allow limited resources to be focused where they are most needed.

Please rest assured that we are working on contingency plans for this scenario for some time and that despite physical branch closures, it is very much business as usual for us.

Throughout this period, our staff will all be contactable during usual working hours (9:00-19:00) via email and their mobile phones.

Furthermore, branch telephone lines will be routed to our negotiators’ mobile phones. For more information on individual contact details, please refer to the ’team’ page on our website: www.cameronsstiff.co.uk/team

Our negotiators will continue to liaise directly with clients regarding appointments and viewings, taking into account any further government guidelines.

Our online presence (our website, property portals, social media and e-newsletters) will continue to be regularly updated. If you have any urgent enquiries regarding a managed property, please visit www.cameronsstiff.co.uk/property-management/ or contact Amin Hankin on amin@cameronsstiff.co.uk

These temporary office closures will be reviewed regularly. Most importantly, keep safe and look after yourselves and your families.