Repairs and Maintenance:
Residential landlords (private and social landlords) are being advised by Government that they should only access tenants’ properties to inspect or repair “serious and urgent issues”. They are advised to take a “pragmatic, common-sense” approach to non-urgent repairs.
The advice is included in a guide issued over the week-end – Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance for Landlords and Tenants – which sets out landlords’ new responsibilities and landlord and tenants’ rights effective during the coronavirus outbreak.
The guide states that a landlords’ legal obligations “have not changed” as a result of the outbreak; tenants still have “a right to a decent, warm and safe place to live”, but that does not mean that landlords or their tradespeople should put themselves or tenants at risk.
The guidance calls for a “pragmatic, common-sense approach” to all non-urgent issues and acknowledges that the outbreak may prevent routine inspections and some repairs.
The guide covers other issues including new rules on seeking possession, guidance on dealing with rent arrears and general property access and health and safety issues, including access for gas safety checks. It should be noted that increased notice periods were introduced by law last week, as well as the 90-day moratorium on possession hearings introduced for courts in England and Wales.
The guide also contains advice for local authorities and enforcement; they should take a “pragmatic approach to enforcement” of standards during the outbreak, taking into account if landlords have taken all reasonable steps to carry out safety checks, including gas – they were not be in breach of the law.
It is proposed that access with the usual precautions is only sought for “serious and urgent issues”.
Examples may include:
- problems with the fabric of your building, for example the roof is leaking
- a broken boiler, leaving tenants without heating or hot water
- water supplies leaving tenants without washing or toilet facilities
- gas safety issues
- failed appliances such as fridge, freeze or washing machine
- critical security failures such as a broken windows or external doors
- failure of equipment for a disabled person
According to a report by Inside Housing it is not as yet clear whether the guidance leaves room for access to the property or delays to carry out routine inspections required by law – such as gas safety checks.
“Tenants should let their landlords know early if there is a problem and landlords should take the appropriate action. We understand current restrictions may prevent routine and obligatory inspections,” it says.
“While resources are stretched, we are recommending a pragmatic approach to enforcement from local authorities. This should mean that tenants who are living with serious hazards that a landlord has failed to remedy can still be assured of local authority support. Landlords should also know they should not be unfairly penalised where COVID-19 restrictions prevent them from meeting some routine obligations.”
The guidance “strongly advises” tenants to “take additional measures such as remaining in separate rooms during any visits”.
Previous guidance issued last week said that no work should be carried out by a tradesperson with coronavirus symptoms and only work to remedy a direct safety issue should be carried out where people are isolating or being shielded from the virus due to a vulnerability.
Separate guidance was issued to local authorities regarding enforcing standards in the rented sector during the outbreak.
With regard to gas and electrical checks, the guidance says: “Both regulations are clear on the issue of compliance. If a landlord can show they have taken all reasonable steps to comply with their duty under the regulations, they are not in breach of the duty.
“A landlord could show reasonable steps by keeping copies of all communications they have had with their tenants and with electricians as they tried to arrange the work, including any replies they have had.
“Landlords may also want to provide other evidence they have that the installation, appliance or flue is in a good condition while they attempt to arrange works. This could include the servicing record and previous landlord gas safety check record.”
On rent arrears, tenants are advised to continue paying rent and should “speak to their landlord at the earliest opportunity” if they are unable to do so.
The guidance urges landlords to “offer support and understanding to tenants who may start to see their income fluctuate,” for example, “This can include reaching a temporary agreement not to seek possession action for a period of time and instead accept a lower level of rent, or agree a plan to pay off arrears at a later date.”