Coronavirus: Everything landlords need to know

In times of uncertainty, one of the best ways, as a landlord or agent, that you can protect yourselves and your tenants is to make sure that you have all the information you need.

The Government has issued new legislation and guidance designed to help landlords support their tenants through this difficult time. The National Landlords Association (NLA) and Residential Landlords Association (RLA) issued a joint statement for landlords, while LandlordZONE has also been sharing up to date information and advice.

This post will wrap up everything that landlords and agents need to know about coronavirus. If you have any useful articles, advice or tips you’d like to share with the community, please send them to us by Twitter or LinkedIn.

And remember: ‘Stay alert. Control the virus. Save lives.’

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Minimising the health risks

The highly contagious nature of COVID-19 means that each of us has to do our part to combat its spread. There are a number of things that landlords and agents can do to help.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms vary in intensity from person to person, but in the majority of cases the most noticeable symptoms are: 

  • A fever or high temperature
  • A persistent dry cough
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Breathing difficulties

What’s the Government’s advice?

As of 13 May, the Government has eased the ‘lockdown’ restrictions that were placed on all citizens. People are still encouraged to stay at home as much as they can, but are now allowed to leave the house for the following reasons: 

  • Buying necessities such as food as infrequently as possible
  • To exercise as regularly as you like while still observing social distancing
  • Providing or receiving medical care or to help a vulnerable person
  • Travelling to work if you can’t work from home or are an essential worker

You can now meet up with one other person from another household, as long as you maintain social distancing. The Government is also recommending that everyone who enters a confined space, such as public transport or a shop, should wear a mask or cover their mouth in some way.

The Government is still recommending that all citizens practise social distancing for the duration of the virus:

  • Avoid contact with anyone displaying symptoms
  • Avoid using public transport where possible
  • Work from home if you can 
  • Avoid gatherings of any size
  • You can meet up with one other person from another household in a public space provided you stay two metres apart
  • Contact public services (such as the NHS) by internet or phone 

Anyone who is showing even mild symptoms should self-isolate for seven days, while anyone in their household should isolate for 14 days. Anyone who is high-risk has been told to self-isolate strictly for the next twelve weeks.

What should landlords do if they develop symptoms?

If you develop symptoms, follow the Government’s advice and self-isolate for a minimum of seven days from the moment the symptoms are noticed. Other members of the household should self-isolate for 14 days from the moment symptoms are noticed, even if they don’t display any symptoms.

In most cases, the illness is not long-lasting. However, if you don’t feel like you can cope with your symptoms at home, or they don’t improve after seven days, contact 111 Online and seek medical advice.

What should you do if one of your tenants develops symptoms?

If you haven’t already, you may want to share the Government’s advice with your tenants. This advice includes how to stay safe and what to do if you develop symptoms.

The Government has also released specific guidelines for tenants living in houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) that explains how long the entire household needs to spend self-isolating after the symptoms are first noticed.

These guidelines might seem counter-intuitive because in some cases people who haven’t experienced symptoms will have to self-isolate for longer than people who definitely had coronavirus. But it’s very important to stick to these guidelines because they are the only way to guarantee that you’re not either an asymptomatic carrier or still in the incubation period:

  • If you live with others and you are the first in the household to develop symptoms, you must self-isolate for seven days from the moment the symptoms were noticed
  • If one of your housemates develops symptoms, they must also self-isolate for a full seven days from the moment their symptoms were first noticed
  • Housemates who do not develop symptoms have to self-isolate for 14 days from the moment the symptoms were noticed for the first time

This diagram may help explain it a little more clearly:

 

What should you do if one of your tenants is high risk?

High risk tenants have to observe strict social distancing until the end of June, at which point the situation and measures will be reviewed. This means you shouldn’t visit high risk tenants’ property, even if you’re not showing any symptoms. To do so could cause them serious harm.

High risk tenants who live alone may struggle with everyday things like buying food. If you have high risk tenants, you may want to contact them and see if they need any help, particularly if they don’t have others to support them.

If you do decide to help one of your tenants, you need to be very careful. Make sure that any provisions that you buy are left outside the house and that the tenants don’t get within two metres of you when collecting them from you. It’s also good practice to make sure that your hands are thoroughly cleaned before handling any goods you buy and drop off for them.

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Can you visit your tenants or properties?

You should only visit properties to conduct essential repairs which, if not completed, would put your tenants at risk. If you do need to do this, keep at least two metres away from your tenants at all times and wear protective clothing such as gloves and masks.

Make sure you check in advance whether anyone in the home is self-isolating or has been in contact with someone who had coronavirus. If the answer to either of these questions is ‘yes’, think carefully about whether the work can wait until after their self-isolation period. If it can, it absolutely should.

Gas safety inspections can still be completed with the express consent of both engineer and tenants. Engineers entering a property must use personal protective equipment, as well as committing to frequent hand washing or use of hand sanitiser. They must also check before entering whether the tenant is self-isolating themselves, or has been in contact with anyone with Coronavirus or who has recently entered into self-isolation. Engineers may also withdraw from the inspection and reschedule if they feel uncomfortable or unsafe. 

If a tenant is self-isolating after displaying symptoms inspection should be postponed for a minimum of 7 days (if they live alone) or 14 days (if there is more than one person in the household). At risk tenants told to “shield” themselves from the community should have their gas inspections postponed to after the initial 12 week period. 

If you have to postpone an inspection, document why you have done this and keep a clear record of your communications with tenants and the decisions that you’ve made.

Obviously, not visiting properties will make it impossible for agents to do house viewings for the time being. Some enterprising agents have started offering ‘virtual viewings’ in place of actual visits.

Agents who want to keep things moving during the lockdown might want to look into how they can use phones and video conferencing services to show potential tenants around properties without anyone leaving their home.

Can tenants move in or out?

The Government has updated the legislation that used to ban viewing houses, moving houses and visiting estate agents. The housing market has now been re-opened. 

They have also recommended that anyone who is planning on doing any of these things takes appropriate measures to make sure that everyone involved is safe from harm.

While it is your tenants’ responsibility to clean the property for the duration of their tenancy, if tenants are moving in or out, you’ll need to be even more careful than usual to ensure that the property is clean.

Be mindful that coronavirus can remain infectious for up to three days on plastic and stainless steel surfaces, which makes countertops, door knobs and white goods a serious risk. 

The Government has issued specific guidelines for letting agents to follow. Here are some of the key points:

  • Use an appointment system to manage office visits, similar to a dentist
  • Always ask whether tenants or customers are showing symptoms or self-isolating before agreeing to meet them or booking viewings
  • Don’t hold open houses
  • Do virtual viewings for the first viewing and in-person if they show real interest
  • Ensure a distance of two metres between yourself, tenants and customers and consider wearing a mask
  • Don’t drive customers to viewings
  • Wipe doors and surfaces before customers enter and make sure customers wash their hands immediately after they enter
  • Encourage existing tenants or owners to vacate the property while viewings take place

We recommend that all letting agents who are reopening review the Government’s guidelines.

 

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Supporting tenants who can’t pay rent

The Government has introduced a range of temporary legislation designed to prevent renters from being evicted and landlords from falling into debt.

What legislation has been introduced?

Coronavirus will have a serious impact on the economy. Widespread job losses are expected, which may affect your tenants’ ability to pay their rent.

To protect tenants from eviction, the Government initially announced that it was temporarily restricting landlords’ and agents’ ability to repossess property for the duration of this crisis.

The Coronavirus Act increased the notice period required before starting eviction proceedings from 14 days (Section 8 notices) and two months (Section 21 notices) to three until September 2020. The government then announced that after consultation with the Lord Chancellor and Master of the Rolls that all new and ongoing possession claims would be temporarily suspended for 90 days from 27 March. The Government has the power to extend this period if they feel it is necessary.

The Government has also introduced a ‘mortgage holiday’ of up to three months for landlords whose rental income is affected.

It’s important to note that you can only apply for this if you’re able to prove that tenants in your buy to let property have been affected and you’re up to date on your mortgage payments.

Mortgage holidays are negotiated with the mortgage providers and not the Government, so you should contact your mortgage provider to learn more if you need to.

Lettings agents that have had to close because of coronavirus will also be exempted from business rates for the rest of the tax year.

Should you contact your tenants?

We always recommend that landlords maintain an open channel of communication with their tenants. It’s better for everyone involved.

Your tenants are likely to be feeling quite nervous and looking for reassurance wherever they can find it. Contact them in a way that makes them feel secure, remind them of the protections that the Government has put in place and ask them to contact you if they develop symptoms or their income is affected.

You may want to monitor rent payments more closely than usual. If payments are made late, reach out in a non-judgmental way to check everything is OK. You can find more information on maintaining a good relationship with tenants during this crisis.

The last thing that you or your tenants need right now is a dispute, so try to be positive, proactive and look for fair solutions that work for everyone.

“How to carry out those all-important check-out inspections is the most common question we are being asked,” Suzy Hershman, Head of Dispute Resolution at mydeposits says.

“Keeping those lines of communication open with your tenant and thinking ahead, you could arrange a video tour of the property on their last day where you can agree on the condition of the property, record any differences and negotiate, if necessary.”

mydeposits have created FAQs for landlords on coronavirus, with practical help on how to deal with your rental property in these unprecedented times.