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31st March 2020

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and residential tenancies

31st March 2020

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and residential tenancies

Nicola Davies

Posted: 31st March 2020

T: 023 8048 2212

E: Email Me

The Coronavirus Act 2020 (“the Act”) is now in force temporarily altering regulations of residential tenancies in England and Wales.

Key points for landlords and tenants on residential tenancies

We set out below the key points to note for landlords and tenants in relation to residential tenancies. For commercial leases please read our separate blog.

Rent concessions

  • Tenants remain liable to pay rent as normal and should continue to pay during the pandemic. Landlords need to consider being flexible and in appropriate cases arrangements to delay rent may be prudent if the tenant does not have the ability to pay.
  • The government have made available new funding for local authorities to help provide support for tenants to stay in their homes. Tenants who have lost their income should contact their local council if they need an urgent subsidy and check to see if they qualify for Universal Credit.
  • Private landlords will soon have to comply with a formal pre-action protocol following specific steps to work with tenants to agree an affordable rent repayment plan if their tenants fall into arrears before being able to commence possession proceedings.
  • Buy to Let mortgage lenders have agreed to offer to defer up to three months’ worth of payments until either the end of the current mortgage period or divided up across existing repayments where this is needed due to Coronavirus related hardships.

Exceptions

The Coronavirus Act does not apply to the following:

  • Licences to occupy – when someone does not have exclusive occupation of a premises with intention to enter into a legal relationship;
  • Service occupiers – where accommodation is attached to employment and they are required to live there to perform their job;
  • Lodgings, holiday lets;
  • Hostel and hotel accommodation;
  • Accommodation for asylum seekers

All residential landlords are however being urged to follow the same guidelines and will still need to apply for a possession order.

Serving S.8/S/21 notices

The government is discouraging S.8/S.21 notices from being served, but have not ruled it out altogether. Instead any notice served up until the 30 September 2020 must set a deadline of at least three months before proceedings are issued.

Possession proceedings

  • All possession claims and proceedings seeking to enforce possession by a warrant or writ of possession are stayed for a period of 90 days from the 27 March 2020;
  • Claims for injunctive relief are not subject to the stay. 

Repairs and moving house

Landlords’ repair obligations have not changed. Where reasonably safe to do so, tenants should allow access to the property for emergency repairs only to be carried out. Precautions should be taken so that no direct contact between parties happens during visits with tenants staying in a separate room.

Emergency repairs are those which affect the tenant’s ability to live safely and maintain mental and physical health. The government has provided the following list of examples:

  • Problem with the fabric of the building e.g. a roof leaking;
  • Boiler is broken leaving tenant without heating or hot water;
  • Plumbing issue, meaning tenants are unable to wash or have toilet facilities;
  • White goods such as fridge or washing machine are broken;
  • Security-critical problem such as a broken window or external door;
  • Equipment a disabled person relies on requires installation or repair.

In the event that landlords are unable to gain access to the property, e.g. tenants refusing access due to self-isolating or an engineer not being available, a record should be kept showing reasonable steps taken to try and comply with the law.

Annual Gas Safety checks can be carried out either two months before the deadline date or 10-12 months after the previous check and still retain the original deadline date as if the check had been carried out exactly 12 months after the previous check.

Homebuyers and renters should, as far as possible, delay moving to a new home whilst emergency measures are in place to fight Coronavirus. No one should visit the property to conduct viewings or anything else which is not urgent.

A tenant who has symptoms should self-isolate and follow the government guidelines, avoiding all communal areas if it is a house in multiple occupation. Nobody can be removed from their home because of the virus.

Landlords are not obliged to provide alternative accommodation for tenants if others in the property contract the virus.

Commentary

Landlords –reach out to tenants early, check they have your up to date contact information and ensure good records are kept of the attempts made to find a solution before any notice is served. Any change to the tenancy agreement terms should be recorded in a letter/email. It is likely that the above deadlines may be extended further and so it is important to bear in mind that s.21 notices are only valid for 6 months. Consider virtual 360 viewings if you are looking for new tenants. Follow government guidelines set out for businesses when asking contractors to undertake urgent work.

Tenants – using COVID-19 as a reason not to pay rent will only delay your liabilities to your landlord. Open communication early with your landlord and be prepared to support your position with documentary evidence such as bank statements or letters from employers. It is still open for landlords to apply to the county courts for money judgments for the outstanding arrears and they may further seek to increase the costs you owe them by relying upon a clause in your tenancy that allows them to recover their fees associated with having to enforce the terms of the tenancy agreement.

This article was created on the 30 March 2020. We shall do our best to keep this note up to date but the law in this area is changing constantly and some references and details may be out of date when reading. For specific advice on your matter contact Nicola Davies in the Property Litigation team.

Our dedicated “Coronavirus – Legal advice and guidance” page contains advice and guidance on matters affecting, businesses, employers, self-employed, employees, planning legislation, property etc. and is regularly updated as and when new guidance comes in from the government or other regulated bodies.

Other useful links

The best source to read on how the changes are impacting the residential property sector is the government guidance notes.

 

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Nicola Davies

Posted: 31st March 2020

T: 023 8048 2212

E: Email Me