The world is a strange place at the moment and some of the information floating around about lettings is confusing.

At the beginning of the lockdown, things letting related were a bit hazy about exactly what the laws were but they have now been brought into focus so if you are a landlord, hopefully, the following will be of some use to you.

The main guidance from the government and endorsed by ARLA Propertymark is very simple –

STAY AT HOME

This applies just as much to landlords and tenants as it does to everyone else. The instruction is:

STAY AT HOME

This article is a a bit longer than my usual blogs but then again these are unusual times. So, without further ado here is the guidance from PropertyMark.

Rent:

Rent remains payable.
There seems to be a lot of confusion about the much talked about “Rent Holiday” and some tenants are taking that to mean that they don’t have to pay it. This does not mean that the rent isn’t due, it simply means that payment can be deferred if agreed by both parties.

There is quite a lot of help at hand from the government for those who will struggle to pay their rent during the lockdown. Under the Job Retention Scheme, most people who have been furloughed should be able to claim 80% of their usual salary. This has been extended to the self employed and those who are on commission based salaries.

However, this money is probably not going to be available until June/July. Therefore it is vital that there is a correspondence between tenant and landlord to arrange how this can best be tackled. If your tenants contact you to say there are struggling you might consider a reduction in the rent for those months where they have little or no income.

However, on the other hand, there is no obligation for you to do this. As ever, the key is good communication and a clear understanding of what is expected by all parties.

Put everything in writing so that there can be no misunderstanding.

If the non payment of rent has an impact on your mortgage, it is a good idea for you to contact your mortgage broker and ask them for a mortgage holiday. Again, this does not mean that you simply don’t pay it. It is similar to the rent; it will be added on to the payments once they restart.

The good news about this for landlords is that it won’t have an adverse affect on your credit rating and banks are being instructed to be as accommodating as possible.

Property Inspections
In a nutshell: these are not absolutely essential, so don’t do them during the lockdown. Even local authorities are not doing these.

Move ins and outs:
At the start of this lockdown, movers were advised that they could do so if everyone concerned was in agreement. However, the clear message now is that any move that is not essential is a criminal offence. Essential in this case does not mean financially essential; it means such things as it must be a case of life or death (such as domestic violence), or the property being moved from is unfit for human habitation (such as a flood, the roof has fallen in or there is a gas leak that the landlord cannot find an engineer to fix it). More about gas checks etc. a litte later.

An exception to this is that a move can be made is if the property has been visitor free for at least three days. Contrary to usual practice, the guidance is not to do an inventory so as to reduce the risk of passing on the virus. Inventories are not a legal requirement.

One suggestion is to use the inventory from the last tenant who moved out with any updates. Send that to your new tenants and ask them to add to it or not as the case may be, sign it and get it back to you so that you both have a record or the condition of the property upon move in. Alternatively, you could get the new tenants to do their own inventory when they move in. This could be in the form of a video or a series of pictures which are shared with you. You might want them to write an email just saying that they took the property in very good condition, or there were scuffs, chips or marks or something similar.

Also be careful about social distancing and how to hand over keys. It is best practice not to meet face to face so find a way around it. Do not go to the property unless it is absolutely necessary and then be extra vigilant about social distancing.

Any move that is taking place because the mover wants to move is unlawful. Any move during this crisis must come under the above strict guidelines.

Just as a last word about inventories and essential moves in this crisis, it would be expected that any deposit protection scheme would not expect the usual level of detail because you would have been breaking the law to do it.

Smoke and CO2 Alarms
Get the tenants to do this so that you don’t have to go into the property. Again, a video of the test would be useful. Ensure that you make good notes about what was said and done as it is a legal requirement to have the smoke detectors and CO2 alarms tested on the first day of the tenancy. Keep a record of what happened.

Check ins and check outs
As mentioned already, do not do check ins and that goes equally emphatically for check outs. Actually, there really should not be any check outs because to do so would mean that the tenants moving out are leaving home when the guidelines are very clear: STAY AT HOME.

If your tenants do decide to move out contrary to government guidance, there is no obligation on you to do a check out within the ten days as usual because to do so would mean that you break the law. Your tenants really should not have moved out and although the check out should be done within ten days of the move out, do not do this until the government restrictions are lifted. That is perfectly acceptable. Do not be tempted to break the law just because your tenants did.

Gas Safety Checks
The guidance on this is that they must still be done. However, should it not be possible for them to be done on or before the due date, it is essential that you keep good records as to why it wasn’t possible. Remember to reschedule for the check to be done when the restrictions are lifted.

Reasons why it could be done would be, for example, the tenants are self isolating and won’t allow anyone into the property or the gas safety engineer won’t come out to do it. In this scenario, which is perfectly acceptable, note what actions you took and reschedule it for when the restrictions are lifted. It does not mean that they don’t need to be done, it just means that there will be a leeway because of these very unusual circumstances.

If you do get both parties willing for the check to be done, it is essential that none of the parties are displaying any symptoms of the Coronavirus. In these circumstances it is essential that you ask everyone if they are displaying any of the symtoms and it is important that you ask the specific questions which are:

• Have you been self isolating as you might have come in contact with someone displaying symtoms?
• Have you got a dry cough?
• Have you got shortness of breath?
• Have you got a temperature?

Ensure that you make a file note of what actions you took to protect both parties. Better still, get them to agree all of this by email.

If all parties are still happy to go ahead with the check, it is important that social distancing is observed while the check is being done. If there is a garden at the property, it would be ideal if the tenants went there for the duration or if not, they should at the very least stay in a different room from the contractor. If there is a different level in the property, the tenants staying there throughout the check would also be acceptable.

EPCs
These are a legal requirement and so must be carried out where necessary. If the EPC has expired during the initial period, there is no need to renew it if the tenancy is going onto a contractual periodic tenancy. However, if there is to be a renewal of the tenancy, or it rolls over to a statutory periodic tenancy it is required, so follow the advice above.

Don’t forget that you cannot let out a property that has an EPC rating less that Band E.

Right to Rent Checks
These can be done remotely during the lockdown. As the law stands landlords are required to meet the prospective tenant in person and confirm that their identification is bona fide. However, that now would be forcing people of different households into close proximity which is against the Coronavirus Act.

Therefore, this can now be done by Skype or other remote means. However, do remember that a physical follow up check is required after the lockdown is lifted.

I do hope that is useful to you. We can be contacted on our usual number (01494 772 772) at any reasonable time of day if you have any questions.