Responsibilities for landlords during coronavirus pandemic

Undertaking responsibilities, obligations and service delivery for landlords or property managers is not an easy task during the current outbreak of coronavirus (Covid-19).

The Coronavirus Act 2020 and The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions)(England) Regulations 2020.

Under the new legislation, buy-to-let landlords can negotiate a mortgage repayment holiday of up to three months from their lender, should there be a need to do this. An example may be that the tenant cannot afford to pay their rent due to income being significantly reduced as their employment is affected by the closures and current national restrictions on movement imposed by the above legislation.

Landlords should enter into an agreement with their tenants as to how much rent should be paid and when the shortfall can be made up - a repayment plan. This can coincide with the period that the mortgage payments are suspended, during the repayment holiday.

The Government has introduced the above emergency legislation preventing tenants from being evicted from their homes during the coronavirus crisis. Under the new laws, all new evictions will be suspended, and no new possession proceedings will be permitted during the period of national emergency.

Further information and advice can be found in the government publication Coronavirus (Covid-19) - Guidance for landlords and Tenants

Advice and tips for assistance during the current crisis

You should use your best efforts to undertake safety checks or take emergency measures where possible, particularly with regards to gas and electrical safety, loss of hot water or heating and any structural collapse. If you are unable to do so you should make a written record this fact, the reason why and what attempts you had undertaken to perform or mitigate any safety issues. You should retry to resolve the matter as soon as is possible and appropriate, having full regard for advice on self-isolation, hygiene and distancing. You will need to maintain good communication with your tenant(s) affected so they are clear on what action you are taking and the timescales for this.

Sunderland Council as regulators for housing standards and safety in the private rented sector in Sunderland will take a pragmatic, common-sense approach to enforcement in these unpresented times. A Landlords repair obligation have not changed. Tenants have a right to a decent warm and safe place to live. Good management requires regular review and maintenance of a property, but we understand that planned inspections may be more difficult at this time. However, that is no reason to allow dangerous conditions to persist.

Be cautious in planning and conducting rental inspections. Consider postponing them entirely if your area is experiencing a current outbreak. Another option would be to conduct virtual inspections using Facebook Messenger, Google Duo, Facetime, Skype, or other video conferencing tools.

Keep in mind that your tenants will be looking to you for advice on what to do, especially in extreme circumstances, like a quarantine. One of the best things you can do is stay calm, be prepared, and help educate your tenants.

It will be important for each landlord to make these decisions having regard to their own situation, the characteristics of their tenants and local circumstances. You should take a risk-based approach as the situation develops and should keep the position under constant review. Clearly, actions and services which relate to the health and safety of their tenants will be of primary importance. You should consider how you will advise tenants about any changes in services. You should notify the Regulator if you must suspend/delay the delivery of services with an explain of why and what steps have been taken to mitigate any risks to the health, safety or welfare of your tenant(s).

Tenants unable to pay full rent payments

If tenants are struggling to pay rent, talk to your tenants and try to come to some amicable financial agreement. Advise on which agencies may be able to help. Under the new legislation, all new evictions will be suspended, and no new possession proceedings will be permitted during the period of national emergency.

If you can't come to an agreement with your tenants, advise them to pay what they can afford and keep a record of what you are offered. You should get advice from a solicitor if you can't reach an agreement.

Useful links

Coronavirus (Covid-19) Guidance for Landlords and Tenants

Government guidance under the Coronavirus Act 2020 about rent, mortgage payments and possession proceedings, court action open housing possession cases during the coronavirus outbreak and property access and health and safety obligations

Annex A - technical guidance for landlords on the provisions of the Coronavirus Act 2020

Technical guidance to landlords who may wish to seek possession of a property. The Government has announced a hold on any possession hearings and also extending the time periods for seeking possession.