Landlords have been inundating the Hamilton Fraser family of businesses with requests for key guidance and advice about Coronavirus and the related changes in law, regulations and market conditions it has driven. Here we pull it all together into one place.
Eddie Hooker, CEO of Hamilton Fraser, says: “Many landlords are trying to get to grips with how to survive financially themselves, whilst maintaining their tenancy, remaining compliant and supporting their tenants.”
Hamilton Fraser says daily announcements last week by the Government, particularly those on evictions as well as advice on home moving and inspections, has led to a surge of enquiries from concerned landlords.
Suzy Hershman, Head of Dispute Resolution at mydeposits, comments: “Examples we’ve had include calls from landlords who have tenants desperate to move in which, if the property is empty, is permitted. However, landlords are then concerned they won’t be able to carry out check-in inspections. We also have student landlords who have tenants wanting their deposits back because the universities are closed so they have gone home. We are doing our best to answer every question sent to us and will continue to do so.”
Suzy has created a COVID-19 Q&A for landlords to offer guidance with such queries during these strange times.
Landlord Action, which is also part of Hamilton Fraser, has over 450 live eviction cases currently progressing through the various courts across England and Wales, which are now on hold. “Some landlords are in a very difficult situation because their tenants were in arrears before the news of coronavirus even broke. They now cannot evict them for months and are even less likely to receive any rent” says Paul Shamplina, Founder of Landlord Action.
Providing landlords with a variety of services across the private rented sector, Hamilton Fraser’s solutions have collaborated to offer a comprehensive guide on what landlords should do to help themselves and their tenants during the coronavirus pandemic.
Here, we have pulled out some of the key information from the guide, which will be updated as the situation evolves.
To reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, the Government has issued restrictions stating that people should only leave their houses for the following:
- To buy necessities such as food
- One form of daily exercise
- Providing or receiving medical care or to help a vulnerable person
- Travelling to and from work if you are unable to work from home
If you do have to leave the house for any reason, you should only do so with a maximum of one other person from your household, and the Government also recommends that all citizens practise social distancing for the duration of the quarantine period. Social distancing involves the following:
- Avoiding contact with anyone displaying symptoms
- Avoiding public transport
- Working from home, if possible
- Avoiding social gatherings of any size
- Contacting public services via phone or Internet
In order to protect themselves and others, it is very important for your tenants to follow these guidelines:
- Anyone who shows mild symptoms should self-isolate for seven days
- Anyone living in the same household who hasn’t yet shown symptoms should isolate for fourteen days
- Anyone who is considered high-risk should self-isolate for twelve weeks
- If your symptoms don’t improve after seven days, you should contact 111 Online and seek medical advice
What should you do if one of your tenants is high risk?
High risk tenants must adhere to very strict social distancing rules for at least twelve weeks, which means that you should not visit the property, even if you are not showing any symptoms.
High risk tenants who live alone may struggle with some day to day activities, such as buying food. You may want to contact them to see if they need some support. If you decide to provide one of your high risk tenants with additional support, you should be extremely careful. For example:
- Leave any provisions you buy for them outside the house for them to collect
- Clean your hands thoroughly before handling any goods you bring to them
- Make sure that you keep a distance of at least two metres from the tenant
- Wear a mask and gloves when you visit their property
Can you visit the property?
You should avoid visiting the property unless it is to carry out an essential repair, which if neglected would put your tenants at risk.
If you do visit the property, you should take full safety precautions, including wearing protective clothing such as masks and gloves, and keeping a two metre distance from others.
Before you attempt to visit your property, be sure to check in advance whether anyone in the home is self-isolating or has been in contact with someone who has shown symptoms.
If they have, think carefully about whether the work can wait until after the isolation period.
Other than to carry out essential repairs, there is currently no other reason to visit a property. This includes regular and gas safety inspections.
Gas Safety Register have said that they will only be doing checks where there is a significant gas risk present.
If you have to postpone a mandatory inspection, it is important that you document the reasons why you had to do this and keep a clear record of all communications with your tenant.
Right to rent checks
Right to rent checks are still mandatory and need to be carried out on new tenants. However, since it isn’t possible to do face-to-face checks, landlords can accept scanned or videoed documents for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.
The Home Office has issued the following guidance:
- Ask the tenant to submit a scanned copy or photo of their original documents via email or a mobile app
- Arrange a video call with the tenant and ask them to digitally present their documentation
- Be sure to record the date that you made the checks
Can tenants move in and out?
House moves are currently not possible as it is not one of the permitted reasons advised by the Government as a reason to leave the house. If you had any tenants that were due to move in or out of your property in the near future, you will have to arrange alternative plans.
If a tenant has to end their tenancy early due to the coronavirus crisis, you may have to show some flexibility. You should be aware that coronavirus can stay infectious on surfaces for up to three days, so it is important that you have your property thoroughly cleaned before or after a tenant moves.
What about landlord mortgage relief?
The Government has recommended that mortgage lenders offer landlords a three month mortgage holiday. The terms of mortgage holidays are not decided by the Government, rather they are decided by the lender.
You can only apply for a mortgage holiday if you’re up to date on your mortgage payments and can prove that tenants in your property unable to pay their rent due to the crisis.
Section 8 Notices and Form 6a (Section 21) now require at least three months’ notice, until the end of September 2020.
All current possession claims have been suspended for a period of 90 days, including applications, hearings, and bailiff appointments.
Rent and deposits
Some tenants whose income has been affected by the crisis may struggle to keep up with their monthly rent payments. In these circumstances, landlords are being advised to work with their tenants to find a fair solution, where possible.
Some landlords are offering a ‘rent holiday’ period, where they delay payments and agree an alternative payment plan for their tenants.
If this type of agreement is reached, be sure to document everything in writing.
Many students have moved out of their temporary rental homes back to their permanent homes due to universities closing. These tenants may request that their deposit is returned, but despite the circumstances, this is still up to the landlord or letting agent to decide.