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TODAY'S OTHER NEWS

Necessary COVID-19 information for landlords and agents

New guidance from ARLA Propertymark’s legal helpline aims to provide landlords and letting agents with greater clarity based on frequent queries they have received as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.

More than a week into the official Coronavirus “crisis” and there is still no clear guidance on the practical help that tenants can expect over the coming months to pay their rent, whilst how landlords and agents are expected to deal with the consequences of any “rent holiday” is, at this stage, pure speculation.

A request for guidance on a whole range of issues affecting the letting industry has so far not drawn any response from the Ministry of Housing. 

Based on recent questions received from letting agents, here are a few thoughts from the landlord and tenant team at Dutton Gregory LLP Solicitors, which manages ARLA Propertymark’s legal helpline, in response to some of the calls received over the last seven days:

WHAT DO I DO IF A TENANT REFUSES ACCESS FOR A GAS SAFETY INSPECTION?

There are of course a few practical things we can suggest. Ask a tenant if they would be happy for a gas engineer to visit the property if the contractor was suitably protected – face mask, gloves, etc. Point out that it is for the tenant’s own safety that these checks need to be undertaken at least once a year.

If a tenant persists on refusing access, we are suggesting that you drop a line to the local environmental health officer pointing out the dilemma which is facing you and your landlord and ask for the local authority’s guidance. Personally, I do not expect that any response will be forthcoming but at least it puts down a marker that you and your landlord have tried to gain access. I think it is inconceivable that having been warned, a local authority will start enforcement action now or even once the crisis has passed. However, tenants who are refusing access must be contacted as soon as the politicians tell us that the crisis has ended.

THE GOVERNMENT SAYS THAT WE CANNOT SERVE NOTICES OR START NEW POSSESSION PROCEEDINGS

A pronouncement by our Prime Minister and the appropriate legislation being in place, are two quite different things.

The Coronavirus Bill 2020 was introduced to the House of Commons last week. Whilst it gives ministers the ability to make changes to the way in which the court system operates throughout the country, as yet there is no legislation to change the effectiveness of either a Section 8 or a Section 21 notice. Indeed, at the moment there are no specific regulations preventing a landlord issuing possession proceedings or enforcing an existing court order.

COURT HEARINGS

Again, the emergency legislation introduced to Parliament does not limit or cancel existing court proceedings at this time. However, courts are being encouraged to conduct more court hearings by telephone than ever before. This is bound to be a trend that will increase over the coming weeks until such time that the courts themselves are actually suspended.

EVICTIONS

There is no specific legislation preventing the enforcement of a current possession order and if needs be the eviction of a defaulting tenant. However, on Monday of this week, bailiffs in Portsmouth unilaterally decided that for health and safety reasons, they would not be entering a property where there was the remotest suspicion that an occupant might have the Coronavirus. This decision has now been replicated, more or less, across the country. It seems to have the backing of the Ministry of Justice, more I suspect, on the grounds of health and safety than a desire to ignore an existing court order. For the moment, we have not heard of a similar moratorium where possession cases have been transferred to the High Court for enforcement and where, of course, a landlord has the ability to instruct a “private” bailiff, a High Court Enforcement Officer.

Things are changing literally hour by hour but we will be here as long as it is considered safe to be at our desks to pass on what guidance we can.

  • Stephen Chipp

    All very helpful but I need clarification on one key aspect; can we accept notice from tenants and can we move tenants into properties?!

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    I don't see why not.

     
    Matthew Payne

    As with everything we are seeing in the press and trade rags, it comes down to what is considered essential movement. There is a huge debate going on about completions and whether people can move home or not. Apparently Michael Gove has said yesterday if you have exchanged then completing is considered essential. I suppose the same principle will apply to lettings. If a tenant gives notice yes you have to accept it. Does a landlord therefore have to suck up the void period until these measures end? It certainly seems that speculative marketing is considered as non essential, but if you have a committed tenant who wants to move into a property when it becomes empty then I dont see why that cant happen. Will have to wait for further guidance I suppose.

     
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    If there is a housing shortage, it's crazy to force landlords to keep properties empty. The SNP obviously don't think there is a housing shortage as they have banned Scottish construction workers from working, even where they could do so safely.The UK Government seems to be trying to get a sensible balance.

     
  • Don Holmes

    Things have moved on and the country is on lock down with the aim of reducing the upper curve and saving the NHS from unmanageable overload . That means reducing movement by people as much as possible, including moving house, which would normally include 2 families, moving support such as removal van and drivers, utility companies and so on.

    Although Mr Grove may have said " if someone has exchanged contracts they are obliged to complete" I am sure all parties would understand and a delayed completion could and should be applied. The courts would understand and support such a decision.
    The same must apply to rental, you must stay put and wait to carry on where we all left off when we are advised it is safe and legal to do so!

    Common sense must prevail.
    Good Luck and stay well.

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    goves a twat

     
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    My current tenants tenancy ends at the end of the month and I have a new tenant due to move in on 1st April. My tenants have now left but their entire belongings are still in the property. A reputable moving firm was due to pick up the belongings today, but due to the guidance of (British Association of Removers (BAR) they have postponed the job until further notice. To add to that the management of the property are only allowing plumbers etc to enter the building for emergencies. I'm working with a new Estate Agent for the new tenant and they are talking about the tenancy Agreement and obligations but as we are in uncharted waters I don't think that's very helpful.

    If the new tenant can pause, i'd be happy for that. My issue is if my new tenant stays where he is for the time being he won't be obliged to pay rent, and will I be able to be compensated from the government for this loss of income. The governments advice is so vague to say the least.

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    If the Government is helping self employed people earning up to £50k, it should also help landlords caught in this kind of dilemma but don't hold your breath! I really can't see what is so risky about allowing families to move their own stuff between properties. I accept we can't expect others to take that risk for us. However we need to remember most people have a mild illness and are able to be back at work in two weeks, so there should be a growing immune workforce as time goes on.

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    Hi, A quick question. My wife relies on the rent from her properties to live on. With the tenant rent holidays likely to bite, her income will disappear. As far as I can see, the only help is a BTL mortgage interest holiday but that does not bring money to her - no rent paid = no income.
    As far as I can tell, she will not be considered self employed so what options are available to her for some form of income support? Just universal credit or am I missing something here?

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