Landlord Focus (COVID-19 edition)

Special issue – November 2020 (updated March 2021)

Landlord Focus is the Private Sector Housing Team’s e-newsletter for providing news and relevant information for landlords, letting and managing agents in Reading. As the coronavirus pandemic continues, we aim to keep you up to date with the latest government guidance and with alterations to our services that may affect you.

We have collated the most relevant information for landlords and agents. We hope you will find the articles in this issue useful and informative. If you have any comments or ideas for future editions, please email us at: hmo@reading.gov.uk.

Remember the key messages from the government:

Hands, face, space poster image
  • Hands – wash your hands regularly and for 20 seconds
  • Face – wear a face covering in indoor settings where social distancing may be difficult, and where you will come into contact with people you do not normally meet
  • Space – stay 2 metres apart from people you do not live with where possible, or 1 metre with extra precautions in place (such as wearing face coverings or increasing ventilation indoors)

Help to protect your friends and family by downloading the NHS COVID-19 app.

Visiting properties

There are times when you, your contractors, and council officers may need to visit occupied properties despite current restrictions, and each situation needs to be looked at on a case-by-case basis.

The Government has updated its guidance for landlords and tenants here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-and-renting-guidance-for-landlords-tenants-and-local-authorities/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-for-landlords-and-tenants

The advice is that landlords can carry out repairs and safety inspections throughout the country under the current national restrictions provided they are carried out in line with public health advice and relevant coronavirus legislation.

Clinically vulnerable, and extremely clinically vulnerable people can allow landlords to carry out routine tasks as long as they are not self-isolating, and social distancing measures are put in place. However, some tenants may still be uncomfortable letting people into their homes and landlords should respect this.

We expect landlords to make every effort to meet their responsibilities to maintain their properties in good repair and free from hazards, but we do understand the difficulties that may be faced and will take a realistic approach to enforcement.  Please document your attempts to carry out your duties and your communications with all relevant people.

When arranging any visits, always ask your tenants if they are self-isolating, or are showing any covid symptoms, and whether they are vulnerable. Even where tenants do not fall into a vulnerable group, social distancing must still be carried out wherever practical i.e. keep 2 metres apart; perhaps ask residents to stay in their rooms during the visit; clean any surfaces that you touch; and keep the area of work well ventilated.

For urgent safety work a visit might be needed even where the tenant is vulnerable or isolating. Take time to explain the reasons for any visit and the precautions that will be put in place to protect both the occupants and the person visiting. You should also make sure your contractors are aware of and are carrying out safe working practices whilst in your employment. 

More detailed guidance on working safely in people’s homes is available here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19/homes

Safety checks

Annual gas safety checks and other essential safety tasks such as the annual inspection and test of the fire detection and emergency lighting systems, and electrical safety inspections, should still be done.

If, despite reasonable efforts, it is not possible to complete all these checks at the usual time, you should keep a written record of the problems found and the steps you have taken to overcome them.  For example, your record might include discussions you have had with tenants and the details of contractors you have contacted to try to complete works.  The key thing is to take all reasonable steps to comply with your duties.

Further up to date advice on gas safety checks can be found on the Gas Safe Register website at: https://www.gassaferegister.co.uk/help-and-advice/covid-19-advice-and-guidance/landlords/

Cleaning

Landlords have a duty to maintain cleanliness of communal areas in HMOs, but regular cleaning also plays a vital role in limiting the transmission of COVID-19.  This can be more difficult in a multi-household property.

As more frequent cleaning is likely to be needed at this time, we recommend leaving appropriate cleaning products at the property in shared accommodation and for cleaning of communal areas, with suitable instructions.  Usually household products will be adequate, but make sure the manufacturer’s instructions are available. In some instances, the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) might apply.

If a person becomes ill in a shared space, these areas should be cleaned using disposable cloths and household detergents. Any upholstered items such as furniture and mattresses can effectively be steam cleaned. Wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning.

General advice on cleaning during the pandemic is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-decontamination-in-non-healthcare-settings/covid-19-decontamination-in-non-healthcare-settings#general-principles-of-cleaning-during-the-covid-19-pandemic

Students

In person learning at colleges and universities has been increasing, so more students may have returned to Reading this term. A further review is expected around Easter. The government have indicated that they will allow students to return home for the Easter holidays, though they have advised them to stay in term-time accommodation where possible.

Where students are away, have not returned since the earlier restrictions, this may be a good opportunity to agree with the tenants to carry out any maintenance to the property. More detailed guidance is available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/higher-education-reopening-buildings-and-campuses

New tenancies

People are free to move home during the current national restrictions, provided they do so in line with public health advice and current coronavirus legislation.  House viewings can take place, although virtual viewings prior to visits in person should be used where possible.  No viewings should take place if either the tenants or the people viewing are showing covid symptoms or are self-isolating.

Managing agents should normally accompany people viewing properties and should ensure that all social distance guidelines are followed.  People viewing homes should wear suitable face coverings (unless exempt) and all internal doors and windows should be opened in advance of the visit to improve ventilation and reduce the need to touch surfaces.

Tenants’ safety should be the priority of letting agents and landlords.

Right to rent checks

Under normal circumstances, landlords or their agents must meet with prospective new tenants, to check their documentation and eligibility to live in the UK.  The rules have been relaxed to allow alternative methods of verification.  

Guidance on right to rent checks is available at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-landlord-right-to-rent-checks

Ending tenancies

The provisions in the Coronavirus Act 2020 – which increased the normal two-month notice period for seeking possession to three months – have been extended, meaning that from 29 August 2020 landlords must provide 6 months’ notice to their tenants in most circumstances.  There are some exceptions.

The ban on possession proceedings expired on 20 September 2020.  Landlords will now be able to take their possession claim to the courts.  Courts will prioritise cases, such as those involving anti-social behaviour and other crimes. 

The government has changed the law to ensure bailiffs do not enforce evictions in England over the period of national restrictions. No evictions are expected to be enforced until 31 March 2021 at the earliest.  There are limited exceptions to this.

See the relevant guidance for more details at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-and-renting-guidance-for-landlords-tenants-and-local-authorities/coronavirus-covid-19-guidance-for-landlords-and-tenants#tenants

Help and support

The government has issued a range of assistance to businesses, some of this assistance is directed through the council.

For further advice see www.reading.gov.uk/c19business and www.businesssupport.gov.uk

If you are concerned about making your mortgage payments during this time you should look at your lender’s website. This will be updated with the latest information, including FAQs, which can answer many queries.

The Money Advice Service also has information on what to do when your mortgage payment holiday has ended: https://www.moneyadviceservice.org.uk/en/articles/what-to-do-when-your-coronavirus-mortgage-payment-holiday-has-ended

The council is coordinating with a range of groups to offer help to those who are vulnerable and most in need via the One Reading Community Hub. 

More information at: http://rva.org.uk/coronavirus-community-action/

Sources of information

The situation and the guidance are changing rapidly, do keep up to date online on the best advice: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-and-renting-guidance-for-landlords-tenants-and-local-authorities

Sector specific advice is offered by the NRLA:
https://www.nrla.org.uk/resources/guide/coronavirus/managing-your-property

For providers of temporary accommodation:
https://www.gov.uk/guidance/covid-19-advice-for-accommodation-providers