How to manage property maintenance during the COVID-19 crisis
Spring is a sensible time for landlords to take stock of the health of their properties. Burst pipes, loose roof tiles, cracked windows and rotten wood can all be caused by cold and damp winter weather. Leaves often block gutters, and strong winds can cause damage to fencing, leaving a property insecure.
Tackling these problems sooner rather than later can prevent more damage occurring, and we would ordinarily recommend a thorough series of property checks every spring. But the current coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis means landlords need to think carefully about property visits and inspections.
Property maintenance during lockdown
We recently published a comprehensive guide for landlords on looking after tenants and properties during the current crisis.
It goes without saying that now, more than ever, landlords and tenants should be making every effort to work together constructively. Both parties are facing different challenges but the fundamental end goals are to make sure the tenant is safe and comfortable and the landlord receives the rent and any other payments as usual.
Under the current government guidance, landlord repair obligations haven’t changed. However, access to properties should be restricted to situations where the issue is very serious or urgent such as the need for repairs that, if not completed, would put your tenants at risk. As per the guidelines, if you have to visit the property you must keep at least two metres away from your tenants at all times and wear protective clothing such as gloves and masks. You should also wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds using soap and water. If soap and water aren’t available, use a hand sanitiser which has at least a 70% alcohol content.
Talk to your tenants beforehand to establish if anyone has been in contact with someone with coronavirus or if anyone is self-isolating. If this is the case, you will need to decide if the work can wait or if it absolutely should be addressed straight away.
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). You must also consider the additional needs for people who are vulnerable or in at-risk groups.
In the event that you need to postpone an inspection, keep a record of why you have done this and of your communications with tenants and the decisions that you’ve made.
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The importance of spring property inspections
While post-winter checks may not seem vital during this time – as landlords are required to contend with seemingly more pressing issues such as missed rental payments, tenant wellbeing and the impact on their own finances – they are key to ensuring landlords meet their property maintenance obligations, and also reduce the likelihood of further issues later in the year. Plus, some landlord insurance policies – including our own – will decline to pay out on certain claims if it can’t be proven that the property has been regularly inspected.
Overall, the Government recommends taking a “pragmatic, common-sense approach to non-urgent issues which are affected by COVID-19 related restrictions”.
Working together with tenants, you may be able to conduct an improvised inspection to ensure that all your properties remain safe and comfortable for tenants during this difficult time.
This review should include checks for:
Roof and guttering
Winter weather can expose tiles and cladding or cause more severe damage to your roof. This means leaks, which can cause damage to attics and soft furnishing and will likely lead to problems with damp if not taken care of as soon as it is safe to do so.
In normal circumstances you would have guttering checked as well, which will likely be stuffed with leaves and other debris after the winter.
However, tenants should not climb onto the roof themselves.
They may be able to see full gutters, missing tiles and damaged cladding from ground level.
At the very least, they can let you know if there are any leaks on the inside of the property, which you can send a professional to check once we escape lockdown.
Wood rot, dampness and mould
The switch from cold, wet weather to warmer temperatures creates the perfect environment for wood rot. Search the property for areas where any protective paints or seals are used, and treat them before they get worse. If left unchecked, mould can quickly get worse and create an unhealthy and unpleasant environment for tenants.
Landlords could ask tenants to identify any problems, and check whether they are willing to help treat the issue since non-urgent visits are currently prohibited
The landlord could then provide the paint and equipment needed from a distance – perhaps leaving it on the doorstep or ordering it to be delivered to the property.
Finally, check for cracks in the walls, ceilings and brickwork for signs of subsidence – our claims data shows that this problem has been on the rise over the last ten years, and it is better to deal with it sooner rather than later. If the tenant finds signs of subsidence it’s important that they notify the landlord as soon as possible.