Stats above are for UK only and refreshed daily.
Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic
Hub for Landlords and Letting Agents
STAY AT HOME
- Shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible.
- One form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household.
- Any medical need, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person.
- Travelling to and from work, but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home.
These four reasons are exceptions – even when doing these activities, you should be minimising time spent outside of the home and ensuring you are 2 metres apart from anyone outside of your household.
(Guidance accurate as at 24 March 2020)
Landlord Specific Guidance
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Inspections and Repairs
The government has issued guidance on tradespeople working in people’s homes and it’s clear that it can continue as long as the two meter distance rule alongside other public health guidance is followed:
Work carried out in people’s homes, for example by tradespeople carrying out repairs and maintenance, can continue, provided that the tradesperson is well and has no symptoms.
Again, it will be important to ensure that Public Health England guidelines, including maintaining a 2 metre distance from any household occupants, are followed to ensure everyone’s safety.
No work should be carried out in any household which is isolating or where an individual is being shielded, unless it is to remedy a direct risk to the safety of the household, such as emergency plumbing or repairs, and where the tradesperson is willing to do so. In such cases, Public Health England can provide advice to tradespeople and households.
No work should be carried out by a tradesperson who has coronavirus symptoms, however mild.
In addition, in the announcement about all possession claims being suspended for 90 days, there is a reminder that:
Landlords remain legally obligated to ensure properties meet the required standard – urgent, essential health and safety repairs should be made. An agreement for non-urgent repairs to be done later should be made between tenants and landlords.
In respect of leaving home to carry out the work, the legislation requiring people to stay at home has a couple of exemptions allowing a person to leave their home namely:
to fulfil a legal obligation, including attending court or satisfying bail conditions, or to participate in legal proceedings
to travel for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where it is not reasonably possible for that person to work, or to provide those services, from the place where they are living;
As such, travelling to and from work is permitted and it’s also permitted if the reason for leaving the home is to fulfil a legal obligation.
With all this guidance taken as a whole, it’s clear that work on properties can continue during this lockdown period.
On this page we will go through the following:
- gas safety records
- electrical testing (fixed mains and PAT testing)
- fire alarms
- periodic inspections
Gas Safety Records
In ordinary times, a landlord or agent could write to a tenant with a date and time for an inspection and explain that if they’re not in, the contractor will use your keys.
However, during this period, that is not suitable because you need to know if they are self-isolating or under shielding provisions.
As such, the express consent of both gas engineer and tenants should be obtained when arranging a gas safety record.
As long as both parties are showing no symptoms and are following the public health guidance, the gas safety record can go ahead.
The engineer will need to take the precautions as outlined by Gas Safe Register.
Gas Safe Register also quote the Health and Safety Executive statement about gas safety records during this time:
“Landlords have a duty of care to their tenants. This is a legal duty to repair and maintain gas pipework, flues and appliances in a safe condition, to ensure an annual gas safety check on each appliance and flue, and to keep a record of each safety check.
In the event you are unable to gain access to the property, e.g., refusal of access due to tenants self-isolating, or if you are unable to engage a registered gas engineer to carry out the work due to a shortage of available engineers, you will be expected to be able to demonstrate that you took reasonable steps to comply with the law. This will need to include records of communication with the tenant and details of your engineers attempts to gain access. You should seek to arrange the safety check as soon as all parties are available.
If you anticipate difficulties in gaining access as the COVID-19 situation progresses, you have the flexibility to carry out annual gas safety checks two months before the deadline date. Landlords can have the annual gas safety checks at their properties carried out any time from 10 to 12 calendar 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.
You are encouraged to arrange your annual gas safety checks as early as possible, as a contingency against tenants being in self-isolation for a period of 14 days (in line with current guidelines), or gas engineers being unavailable due to illness. The two-month period to carry out annual gas safety checks should provide adequate resilience in most situations.
Current guidance from HM Government concurs that work can still be carried out in people’s homes where necessary, e.g., for reasons of safety, provided that the GOV.UK guidance on social distancing is followed. See ‘Advice for engineers’ for guidance for engineers and their employers regarding working in peoples’ homes.”
If the tenant informs you they are self-isolating after displaying symptoms then, the inspection should be postponed to a time after 7 days (if they live alone) or 14 days (if there is more than person in the household) from when they started self-isolating.
The self-isolating guidance should be consulted as it may change.
If a tenant informs you they have been told to “shield” themselves from the community as they are at a very serious risk, the inspection should be postponed until after the 12 week period in our view.
The NICEIC only seem concerned with the disruption for new applications to their scheme and don’t appear to have any advice for those with a legal obligation to carry out an electrical safety test such as landlords with HMO property. Not very helpful!
The advice for a legally required electrical safety certificate in an HMO (basically any dwelling with more than two unrelated sharers and some converted blocks of flats) is the same as gas safety discussed above. Reasonable attempts should be made and log all communications.
See the gas safety section above for self-isolation and shielding.
If you generally carry out a routine electrical inspection even when not legally required to do so, these should be put on hold during the lockdown period.
PAT testing is not a legal requirement and so should also be put on hold during the lockdown.
Rental Payments and Income
We are landlords personally as well as running the Guild and when the COVID-19 government announcements started to really take effect, we were genuinely worried that we could suffer serious losses. We were thinking it could be as bad as 70% income drop for 3 months and were thinking if we achieve 50%, we will have done well.
However, more recent announcements (such as the changes to Universal Credit and support for up to 80% of wages) have calmed us a little. Make no mistake though, there are tough times ahead.
Furthermore, although we had a small number of initial emails about rent, the numbers have been very low so far. Obviously it’s early days but we don’t believe the percentage loss of income will be as bad as we first thought.
Should Landlords and Agents Write to Tenants?
Possession Notices and Court Action
From 27 March 2020, all court action relating to possession proceedings are suspended. No new claims can be made and any existing in the system are halted at the point they are at currently for 90 days.
In addition, all bailiff enforcement action is suspended for 90 days.
From 26 March 2020, any section 8 notice, section 21 notice and a notice to quit for a Rent Act 1977 tenancy served must now contain an increased length of notice to at least three months.
A section 8 notice is most commonly used for two months or more arrears (ground 8) and often includes ground 10 (any arrears) and ground 11 (persistently late paying the rent). From 26 March, the length of notice must be at least three months (plus four days for service).
A section 21 notice is normally two months and has also increased to three months for any section 21 served from and including 26 March 2020 until 30 September 2020 (or later date if extended).
Assistance for Self Employed
Many landlords will be self-employed and complete a tax return.
The pledge comes with some restrictions –
- Claiming the grant is limited to the self-employed earning no more than £50,000 a year to exclude celebrities and the wealthy earning much more
- The payment is capped at £2,500 a month
- Tax filings must be up-to-date, including self-assessments due on January 31. A 28-day window is open for late-filers to catch up
You can also see the government COVID-19: support for business page for more details.
Payments on Account Deferred
Most landlords will be self employed and pay income tax under the self assessment scheme. Payments on account due on 31st July 2020 will be deferred until 31st January 2021. No penalties or interest will be charged for this period.
This will be applied automatically and no application will be required.
Minimum Income Floor
Benefits for self employed individuals are currently capped at a level linked to minimum wage. This will be suspended from 6th April 2020 which means that those on none or low income can claim Universal Credit in the same way as someone who’s unemployed.
Standard Allowance Increased
The Government will increase the standard allowance in Universal Credit and the basic element in Working Tax Credit by £20 per week on top of any planned annual increases from 6 April 2020. This will apply for a year and all new and existing claimants will be entitled.
Business Rates Holiday
The government is to introduce a business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England for the 2020 to 2021 tax year and affected business should expect a revised bill as soon as local authorities can get them out.
A business is eligible for the business rates holiday if:
- the business is based in England
- the business is in the retail, hospitality and/or leisure sector
- this includes letting agents and estate agents
Properties that will benefit from the relief will be occupied hereditaments that are wholly or mainly being used:
- as shops, restaurants, cafes, drinking establishments, cinemas and live music venues
- for assembly and leisure
- as hotels, guest & boarding premises and self-catering accommodation
No action is necessary to claim the business rates holiday as it will apply to the next bill automatically in April 2020. However, local authorities may have to reissue your bill automatically to exclude the business rate charge. They will do this as soon as possible.
General Property Management and Other Matters
Tenants Due to Move In
The advice being provided is as follows:
- Home buyers and renters should, where possible, delay moving to a new house while measures are in place to fight coronavirus (COVID-19).
- Our advice is that if you have already exchanged contracts and the property is currently occupied then all parties should work together to agree a delay or another way to resolve this matter.
- If moving is unavoidable for contractual reasons and the parties are unable to reach an agreement to delay, people must follow advice on staying away from others to minimise the spread of the virus.
- In line with Government’s advice, anyone with symptoms, self-isolating or shielding from the virus, should follow medical advice which will mean not moving house for the time being, if at all possible. All parties should prioritise agreeing amicable arrangements to change move dates for individuals in this group, or where someone in a chain is in this group.
In addition to this guidance, the legislation for stay at home rules contains a specific exemption allowing an individual to leave their home to move house where reasonably necessary.
Council Tax Empty Property
During this coronavirus pandemic, it’s clear there are going to be a number of properties empty which cannot be re-let. Especially during the lockdown period.
Unfortunately as at 27 March 2020, there has been no recognition of this and council tax will be payable on empty homes depending on the local authority rules.
Government announced there would be a mortgage holiday which would include buy-to-let mortgages.
If you want to take advantage of this, you need to contact your mortgage company directly.
A couple of points worthy of note:
- check with them that if you don’t pay for three months will that go agains credit score?
- also check how they will recoup the missed payments – will it be an increase in premiums going forward or, will be an extension to the term?