Landlords, Lockdown and the impact of COVID-19

What can you do to safeguard your tenants during the Coronavirus?

There’s no question about it; we are living in uncertain times. As the globe tackles the novel COVID-19 pandemic, the ‘new normal’ is one that involves some form of ‘lockdown’ where our usual day-to-day activities have been put temporarily on hold in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus.

The UK government has implemented many changes under the Coronavirus Act which came into force on 26 March 2020, with £billions being put towards supporting businesses during these harsh trading conditions. Despite this, the impact is being felt by many companies, including the estate agency sector. We all need to pull together and do what we can to support local businesses. So when we are through the other side of this crisis, we are in the best position possible to continue the provision of a valuable service for our landlords, tenants and community. One way that you can help support Heaven Estate Agents is to follow us on social media. A ‘Like’ on our Facebook page would mean an awful lot! Part of our commitment to provide a ‘value-add’ service is to ensure we have relevant content and help around topics that affect you.

In our first series of posts to help landlords navigate the current climate, the team at Heaven Estate Agents has pulled together some guidance on how you can help support your tenants during lockdown. Read on to find out more.

We pledge to:

  • Highlight what steps have been put in place to help landlords support tenants who may be struggling to make ends meet.
  • Endeavour to help keep prospective tenants safe by working with landlords to fill any vacant properties, while respecting social distancing guidelines.
  • Keep you updated on what changes are due to come into force during 2020 and beyond.
  • Provide tips and tricks on how you can maintain the upkeep of your property in times of lockdown.
  • Provide support for landlords who may have to engage in conflict resolution to help them reach the best possible outcome for all involved (EG: how to deal with ‘problem tenants’, what to do if you recently served a tenant an eviction notice just before lockdown was announced or how to support your tenants who may be suffering financial implications as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic etc.)

Whatever support you need; we are here to help! Get in touch with Salman or Paul and they will be on hand to answer any questions you may have. See below for more details on how we can help.

Help for Landlords during the Coronavirus Help for Landlords during COVID-19

If you find yourself in the position where a tenant (either residential or commercial) has said they are refusing/unable to pay their rent or can only make a partial payment – here some on tips on how you can find a resolution.

Instruct your managing agent to reach out to your tenants to get some clarity on their situation.

If you don’t have a managing agent then now is the perfect time to open up the lines of communication, to provide support and compassion, so together, you can come to a mutually agreeable solution. See below for some questions you can you ask your tenant(s) to find a way through the issues, and how you can help them take the right steps to ensure their situation doesn’t go from bad to worse?

  • How are they feeling?
  • How have they been adapting to lockdown?
  • Are they listed as vulnerable? If so, do they have the support they need to get much-needed supplies? If not, how can you help?

If they are a Norbury resident and are vulnerable or elderly, some local hubs are pulling together to provide support in the community. Check out the Cassandra Centre – the Cassandra Centre is a local charity that has been delivering free hot-meals to elderly and vulnerable community members every Thursday as a replacement for the ‘Thursday Lunch Club’. Or there is the local Norbury and Pollards Hill COVID-19 Mutual Aid support group. Just two examples of how our fantastic community is pulling together in times of crisis to help others. What is the situation with work? Are they able to work from home? Have they been furloughed? If they have lost their jobs as a result of the Coronavirus crisis, are they entitled to financial support from the government such as Universal Credit?

  • Has their employer given any indication of what the ‘return to work’ plan is?
  • If they are self-employed, how are things going? Are they able to maintain an income during lockdown? If not, are they legible for financial support?
  • If your tenant has said they are struggling – be prepared to offer guidance on how they can apply for support from the government. If they have applied, do they know how long it will take for any payments to be received?
  • If your tenant can make partial rent-payments then it would be in your best interests to make an arrangement with them to pay any outstanding amounts in instalments – this will help both you and them with their financial planning. As their landlord, if their inability to pay their rent will have financial implications for you, are you able to apply for a mortgage holiday which will ease the burden both on yourself and your tenant? It is worth bearing in mind that even you can benefit from a mortgage holiday, these payments will still have to be made, just at a later date.
  • If you do agree to an instalment arrangement with your tenant, you have a duty of care to remind them of their contractual obligations to ensure any outstanding monies are repaid in full; otherwise, they are at risk of eviction once the crisis is over.
  • And finally, in the spirit of open and transparent communication between you and your tenant, tell them that you are reaching out as a concerned landlord and you want to help. However, you too are under contractual obligations to pay your mortgage and failure to do so puts you at risk of losing your property – their home. With this in mind, it is best to open and honest with each other, so when we are through the other side of this crisis, everyone is in the best possible position to look forward to the future.

Get in touch with your mortgage company or broker

Ask for information regarding mortgage holidays for buy-to-let mortgages. If you have a commercial business unit and are facing financial difficulty as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, then there is support available designed to help small businesses stay afloat during challenging trading conditions. Visit the UK Government’s Coronavirus Business Support page for more information.

If you do qualify for a mortgage holiday, it means you will be able to benefit from safeguarding your cash flow in the immediate-term. The deferred payments will be spread out throughout your mortgage contract, giving you the breathing space you may need to make ends meet during these challenging times.

What are the new, legal issues that Landlords should be aware of in direct relation to COVID-19?

Coronavirus Act 2020 to stop the spread

The Coronavirus Act 2020 came into force on 26 March 2020, and it contains ‘emergency powers‘ to enable public bodies to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Due to stay in effect until 30 September 2020 (it may be extended depending on how the country recovers from the pandemic), it’s in your best interests to be aware of what these changes are. This will help you make any reasonable adjustments to plans for your business, your properties and your current tenants. So, what are the implications, and how will this impact you?

Evictions suspended for 90-days

The Coronavirus Act 2020 includes a lot of information and amendments to existing legislation. Section 81 and Schedule 29, in particular, are worth taking note of with regards to residential tenancies and the ability to evict. Titled ‘Residential tenancies in England and Wales: protection from eviction’ the key takeaways are:

Three-month notice period 

If you are looking to issue a notice to quit or would like to take back possession of your property under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977, the Housing Act 1985 and the Housing Act 1988, you are now required by law, to issue a three-month notice period.

The three-month notice period incidentally applies to ALL EVICTION NOTICES and not just those related to Coronavirus issues. As stated above, this is likely to stay in effect until 30 September 2020.

Suspension of all ongoing possession proceedings 

On 27 March 2020, the Master of the Rolls announced that all ongoing proceedings were to be put on hold for 90-days with the possibility that this will be extended. Any applications to stay existing possession orders and applications to suspend warrants of possession will now be regarded as Priority 1 cases. These must be dealt with; the caveat being they should only be dealt with as long as public health isn’t put at risk.

New possession proceedings can be instigated

Despite the 90-days halt on proceedings, new possession orders can be provided as long as the landlord has complied with the three-month notice period – and this applies for Section 8 and Section 21 notices. 

The Ministry of Housing advises landlords NOT to commence new possession orders during the current COVID-19 crisis unless there is a good reason. In our previous blog post on how the COVID-19 pandemic impacts renters, our advice then was only to move property if it was ‘absolutely necessary’, and the same rule should apply for landlords. Any eviction notices should only be instigated if there is no other option, and with the caveat that nothing will happen for at least 90-days due to the three-month notice requirement.

As per our advice above, it is in a landlord’s best interest to reach out to their tenants to find out if they are ok, and are in a position to maintain rental payments before instigating proceedings.

Duty of care 

At Heaven Estate Agents, we pride ourselves on having a 95% landlord retention rate. We have a duty of care to both our landlords and tenants alike to make sure they have all that they need. As a landlord, you too have a duty of care to your tenants, so if you have any concerns, we are here to help and to provide support and advice.

What support can you provide if you rent house shares to singles, students or young professionals?

As per the above, it is in your best interests to check-in with your tenants during the COVID-19 crisis. If members of a shared household start to display Coronavirus symptoms, then all members of that household need to follow government advice on how to try and stop the spread.Stop the spread of COVID-19 with good hygiene But how will your tenants navigate self-isolating at home when they share living spaces such as the kitchen, bathroom and living room? See below for some advice you can give to your tenants in a shared household.

  • If you are the first in your house share to start showing Coronavirus symptoms, then you must stay at home for seven days. Other members of your flat/houseshare must also stay at home and not leave the house for 14-days, even if they are well and not showing symptoms. The day when the first person becomes ill is ‘day-one’.
  • If another member of the house share becomes sick, they then need to stay at home and not leave the house for seven-days from the first day that they started to display symptoms, even if they are on day-13 of the original self-isolation period starting.
  • The likelihood of all house members getting infected is high, so staying at home and self-isolating is the best way to stop the spread of the disease amongst your community.
  • As a landlord, checking in with your tenants is the right thing to do, especially if you rent to house sharers who may be young and away from a support network who can help with shopping etc. Check-in with your tenants and ask if they need help getting supplies.
  • Using shared spaces when self-isolating can be tricky. Advise your tenants to frequently clean shared areas (bathroom, kitchen, living room, doorknobs) with germ-killing detergents such as bleach, and to dispose of waste in a separate bin bag. When it comes to using the bathroom and kitchen, a rota is an excellent way for your tenants to avoid cross-contamination – with the infected person being the last person to use the shared area. Advise them to clean everything with detergent before and after use to kill the germs and if they are infected, wear a face mask to try and prevent passing it on to their housemates.

It is not the landlord’s duty to provide advice, but showing kindness and compassion during a time of crisis will encourage good relations for the future. If in doubt, direct your tenants to follow national guidelines.

If you would like to discuss letting your properties during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond then get in touch. Despite lockdown, we have successfully matched new tenants to landlords over the past couple of weeks, so if you have a vacant property that needs new tenants, we are here to help.

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