letting & estate agents
The Government has implemented new legislation to protect tenants experiencing financial difficulties as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
You can download a copy of the Government guidance on the new requirements here. We outline some of the key areas of consideration and how they may impact your business.
Government expectations of landlords
The Government guidance is clear that landlords should show support to their tenants during this period, including forbearance for those experiencing financial difficulty. It stresses landlords take a “pragmatic, common-sense approach to resolving issues” and advises an early conversation between landlord and tenant and for both parties to agree a plan, should the tenant be experiencing financial stress.
The Government is clear that tenants should continue to pay their rent and abide by the terms of their tenancy to the best of their ability. However in cases where this is not possible, the advice is for landlords to come up with a plan with their tenants. Suggestions include reaching a temporary agreement not to seek possession action 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.
Landlords should be aware of where their tenants may be able to receive financial help and support. For example, local authorities can provide support for tenants to stay in their homes. The Government has made £500 million available to fund households experiencing financial hardship.
To enable landlords to offer more flexibility to tenants, mortgage lenders are offering landlord customers a three-month mortgage payment holiday. For more information on Paragon’s mortgage payment holiday, please visit our coronavirus page.
Changes to tenant eviction laws
The provisions of the Coronavirus Act mean that, until 30 September 2020, most landlords will be required to increase the notice period needed to initiate possession proceedings to three-months. Landlords can however choose to give their tenants more than three months’ notice.
Regardless of this legislation, where tenants have difficulty paying rent over this period, the Government has ‘strongly advised’ that landlords do not issue a notice seeking possession, particularly given that the tenant may be sick or facing other hardship due to COVID-19.
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.
Eviction notices in process
The court service has suspended all ongoing housing possession action. As a result, neither cases currently in train or that went into the system shortly before the deadline can progress to the stage where the tenant could be evicted. This suspension of housing possession action will initially last for 90 days, but this can be extended if needed.
Property Maintenance and Repairs
Landlords’ repair obligations have not changed. Tenants have a right to a decent, warm and safe place to live and it is in the best interests of both tenants and landlords to ensure that properties are kept in good repair and free from hazards.
Where reasonable, safe and in line with other Government guidance, tenants should allow local authorities, landlords and contractors access to the property in order to inspect or remedy urgent health and safety issues.
These could include (but are not limited to):
- If there is a problem with the fabric of the building, for example the roof is leaking
- If the boiler is broken, leaving the tenant without heating or hot water
- If there is a plumbing issue, meaning no washing or toilet facilities
- If white goods such as fridge or washing machine have broken, meaning tenants 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
Tenants are advised to inform their landlord early and engage constructively in the event that they encounter any issues with the condition of their property, and the effect of current restrictions should be considered. The Government encourages tenants and landlords to take a pragmatic, common-sense approach to non-urgent issues which are affected by COVID-19 related restrictions.
Although there is no language explicitly prohibiting viewings, the Government recommends that access to a property is only allowed for serious and urgent issues, such as the repair of the property to ensure a safe home for a tenant. Home buyers and renters should, as far as possible, delay moving to a new home while emergency measures are in place to fight coronavirus.
Should I stop charging rent to my tenant during the outbreak?
There is no requirement on landlords to stop charging rent. Most tenants can and should continue to pay their rent as usual. Although landlords should be mindful of their tenants circumstances and should be prepared to be flexible if their tenant is in financial difficulty.
Can tenants be forced to leave the property without a court possession order?
No. The Protection from Eviction Act 1977 means that tenants cannot be forced to leave their home without a court order and warrant for execution of that order. The 90 day suspension of housing possession claims from 27 March 2020 means that existing notices seeking possession cannot progress to the stage at which a tenant can be evicted.
What if I had issued a notice before the 27 March deadline?
The 90 day suspension of court action will apply to possession cases which had already been initiated. No possession order in train will be able to be concluded by the courts during this period.
Do the new rules apply to Scotland too?
No. The Scottish Government has brought forward its own legislation that would require landlords give a minimum notice period of six months to their tenants in cases where they are seeking possession. The exceptions are cases involving antisocial or criminal behaviour, or if the landlord needs to move into the property themselves – in which cases three months’ notice can be given.
Do my legal obligations to provide regular gas and electrical safety inspections remain in place? Will I be prosecuted if I can’t get access because I or my tenants are self-isolating?
Landlords should make every effort to abide by existing gas safety regulations and electrical safety regulations which come into force on 1 July. There are provisions in both regulations to account for situations in which a landlord cannot do this, although they must demonstrate they have taken all reasonable steps to comply with the law.
I have an HMO and one of the tenants has contracted the virus. What am I obliged to do?
Nobody can be removed from their home because of the virus and landlords are not obliged to provide alternative accommodation for tenants if others in the property contract the virus. The Government has issued specific guidance on what to do if someone in your household has contracted the virus, including self-isolating the whole household for 14 days. You can find that guidance here.