At Bidwells, we are aware that the current COVID-19 pandemic has raised a number of questions regarding the management of residential properties. We have listed below some of the most common questions being asked and how each issue might be approached.
Our recommendations are guided by our understanding of the current government guidance for COVID-19. Please note, government guidance is frequently being updated – if you have any questions or queries regarding the impacts of COVID-19 and the management of land and property, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Q) Can tenants move in or out of properties?
A) Moving tenants is not deemed as essential travel. You should not move tenants in or out of properties unless it is essential to do so, even if the property being moved into is currently vacant.
In exceptional circumstances, tenants can be moved e.g. domestic abuse or the current property being uninhabitable – roof collapsing, heating not repairable etc. This also applies if a keyworker is moving closer to their work or isolating from family due to working in a hospital.
Removal companies should no longer be working.
If tenants do move in or out of properties, do so with caution. Consider alternatives for check in processes and inventories, as these documents will still be needed at the end of any tenancy. Inventories/check ins/check outs are not essential, so no one should be travelling to do them. As an alternative you could use an updated check out report from a previous tenancy or do a retrospective inventory once movement is allowed, if the move is essential.
Q) Can we still carry out viewings?
A) No - viewings are not deemed appropriate as they do not count as essential travel. If you have a video of the property you can email this to the applicants or shortlist those interested to arrange viewing after the travel restrictions have been lifted.
Q) If a tenant does move out, do I still need to return the deposit if a checkout has not been completed?
A) You are legally required to return a deposit within 10 days once the amount has been agreed; however, tenants should not be moving so this should not apply.
If a tenant does move out, for an essential reason, the landlord does not have to return the deposit until a checkout can be undertaken, the figure to be returned cannot be agreed without a property inspection.
We appreciate these regulations contradict each other. Our advice is to notify the tenant of the restrictions when they give notice and advise that there may be a delay in returning their deposit. You will likely have to assess this on a case by case basis, depending on your relationship with the tenants and how recently you have previously inspected the property.
Once we have more guidance on this matter, we will provide a further update.
Q) As landlord are we still legally required to have the following checks completed - gas safety/EPC/Electrical inspection (EICR) etc?
A) Current guidance is for gas safety checks to continue to be carried out. This breaches all other government advice, so requests are being made to HSE to review this and to allow a suspension, but currently they are still required.
Most contractors are still operating emergency and essential works including carrying out gas safety inspections. These inspections and assessments should be done in a safe manner (checking that the tenant(s)/contractor do not have any symptoms or that they are self-isolating). Contractors and tenants should distance themselves within properties by standing outside of the property if possible.
If you are unable to source a contractor for works, this must be clearly documented. We would recommend trying at least four contractors before postponing works. You should keep trying to find a suitable contractor if the works are urgent.
If tenants will not allow anyone into the property, you should keep written evidence on record.
Electrical regulations are still due to start on 1 July 2020. Requests for a delay are being made but as yet there is no change. However, as there should be minimal new lettings this should not apply in many cases. Please note that the new electrical requirements apply to any renewals post 1 July 2020.
Q) Will properties still be required to meet the new Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES)
A) Yes, although a delay has been requested, the Government has not been very sympathetic as the works should have been done in advance of 10 days of the new rules coming into force on 1 April 2020 for existing let properties. Please note that EPC assessors must follow guidelines and take precautions where appropriate.
Q) Can maintenance issues be put on hold?
A) Reasonable efforts are expected to be made by the Landlord for emergency works only. You should assess the priority of the issue; those affecting human habitation should be dealt with if both the tenant and contractor are happy and checks are made that neither party has any symptoms. All information should be recorded in writing. If either party refuses to cooperate this should also be recorded.
Q) How do I carry out Right to Rent checks at this time?
A) Right to Rent checks remain a legal requirement however a temporary method has been brought in. Checks can be done via video call (e.g. Skype/FaceTime); you are also required to retain a scanned copy of the ID used. You will then need to complete the checks in person once movement restrictions have been lifted.
Q) How do we carry out regular fire safety checks?
A) For essential property moves, the tenant can undertake the smoke alarm checks. Their findings should be recorded, and any issues rectified as soon as possible.
For HMOs, the landlord has a legal requirement to inspect periodically – the government advice to local councils is to take a common-sense approach and to refrain from going into multiple areas.
Q) Are tenants still required to pay rent?
A) Tenants continue to be contractually bound to pay rent whilst they are in a fixed term, or if a move is delayed but they are still occupying the property.
If you have problem and there is a guarantor, this avenue should be used to collect rent.
You should also direct tenants towards the government guidance and suggest they join the ‘keep the rent flowing’ campaign or look at the possibility of applying for universal credit.
Rent deferment or rent holidays should be a last resort, and if actioned, evidence should be collected to prove hardship. We would recommend this is reviewed on a case by case basis.
Q) What is the latest with tenant evictions?
A) Until 30 September 2020 (though this could be extended), any eviction notice served will be extended to a three month notice period.
Notices already served are unlikely to be completed due to courts closing and the slim chance of landlords being able to enforce the notice.