Renting in Lockdown and the impact of COVID-19

Here are the answers to the questions you’ve meant to ask!

It’s just over a month since the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that we were to go into lockdown. Since then, the ‘new normal’ has changed how we all go about our day-to-day lives dramatically, but what does this mean for renters, landlords and those that find themselves looking for a new home?

At Heaven Estate Agents, we were the first local estate agents in Norbury to close the office to walk-in appointments, demonstrating our commitment to putting the health and wellbeing of our staff and customers first. Despite this move, it has still very much been business as usual for us with a few adaptations. We understand that finding somewhere to live is right up there with the need for clothing and food. So if you are currently renting and are concerned about paying your rent, or you gave notice on your current home just before lockdown was announced or your landlord has asked for their rental property back, and you don’t know where you stand, read on for some tips and tricks on how you can navigate this tricky landscape.

Can people still look for a new home to rent even in lockdown?

The UK government gave clear social distancing guidance stating that we should all follow. That we should only go out once (now twice) a day and that that is only to exercise for up to an hour, to go shopping for essentials or to go to work if working from home was not possible. We are all to keep a minimum distance of 2-meters (6-feet) from others, and we are not to meet with people from outside of our household. So, with this in mind, how can renters view available properties?

How to stop the spread of the CoronavirusHow we adapted our business model in lockdown

At Heaven Estate Agents, we have adapted how we are doing business so we can support our landlords and tenants alike. All of our vacant properties have been cleaned to a high standard and are available for viewing by appointment only. If you are meeting with us at the office, then we do insist that you:

  • Use hand sanitiser when you arrive (we have plenty).
  • If you do have a facemask or protective gloves, then we would appreciate you wearing them.
  • Observe the 2-meters rule.

If you do wish to view a property in person that only one person attends the viewing so we can ensure we are all following social distancing guidance. An alternative to an in-person viewing, we can conduct a virtual viewing by video appointment – be that on FaceTime or WhatsApp video, and this stands for residential or commercial lettings. We have recently let a vacant rental property during lockdown, helping one of our landlords maintain an income and helping someone find a new home during what is a very stressful time.

Planning to move after lockdown?

You may find yourself planning to move in the not so distant future but are waiting for social distancing guidance to be relaxed before you start your search. If this is the case, then there’s no harm in registering your details with the Heaven Estate Agents’ team, so you are in prime position to start your search once restrictions have eased. We are answering all queries on email, via telephone or our Facebook page and will do our best to help you in your search when you are ready.

Do you have properties to rent that are available at the moment?

The short answer to this question is a resounding YES!! There has been a slight drop in rental availability in comparison to the weeks just before lockdown was announced, and we are working with our landlords to find a flexible solution so we can continue to match great landlords to great tenants. The biggest challenge is new rental properties, but we have recently had a few new rentals become available including this fantastic 3-bed penthouse apartment in Croydon, so the supply is out there, it’s just not as free-flowing as it usually is.Home is where the heart is

The government has said that you should only move home if it is ‘absolutely essential’ – what does that mean?

This could mean many things, perhaps your boiler isn’t working, and your landlord is unable to get it repaired during lockdown? Or in some extreme cases if you are a victim of domestic abuse, for example then finding a haven is, of course, a top priority.

If the move is not essential, or if you handed in your notice on your current rental property just before lockdown was announced, perhaps speak to your landlord and see if the move can be put on hold. We are all after all, in this together and living in extraordinary circumstances, so if you can hit the pause button, then it is worth doing so. If, however, you find yourself unable to hit pause then get in touch and we will do all that we can to help you.

I’ve been put on furlough at work, and I’m worried I won’t be able to pay my rent, what should I do?

It may sound harsh, but despite the Coronavirus, you are still contractually obliged to pay your rent! However, that does not mean if you are facing difficulty in making ends meet that you shouldn’t ask for help.

COVID-19 virus

The Coronavirus Act and financial support

The government’s policy introduced under the Coronavirus Act states that homeowners and landlords can apply for a ‘mortgage holiday’ for up to three months. Designed to ease the immediate pressure on those who have been impacted financially by the COVID-19 pandemic, it doesn’t, however, mean that these payments won’t have to be made at some point, they will just be deferred to a later date.

The Coronavirus Act also states that notice for possession will be extended from two to three months, but the government stresses no renter will face eviction. The Communities Secretary, Robert Jenrick, said just before lockdown was announced in March 2020:

The government is clear – no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home, nor will any landlord face unmanageable debts.”

What is clear, if you do find yourself in financial hardship and you are worried about not being able to pay your rent the sooner you speak up, the better. The Citizens Advice Bureau is a great place to start if you need advice, but we strongly advise all tenants to notify their landlord as soon as possible if they think they may struggle. If you are a Heaven Estate Agents tenant and are struggling to make ends meet, then please contact us as soon as possible.

Financial support in the UK

What if my rental contract is due to come to an end during lockdown, will I be forced to move?

It is in your best interests to do everything in your power to stay put, even if you did have plans to move at the end of your contract. Speak with your landlord or lettings agent to discuss next steps. The majority of landlords will happily extend your contract to a monthly rolling agreement; this ensures they still have rental income and avoids the stress of having to find new tenants during this time. If your landlord does not want to extend the contract s/he would have to come to an agreement with you or instigate eviction proceedings which have now been put on hold for 90-days so no evictions can take place during lockdown (more on that below).

My landlord has served me notice during lockdown. Do I have to move out?

The short answer to the question is No! As stated above, the Coronavirus Act which came into force on 26 March 2020 places restrictions on movement, whether we should commute to work if it is possible to work from home and how many times a day we are allowed to leave home. It has also banned all evictions, even if you have been served notice before the Coronavirus Act came into force, all evictions have now been put on hold for three months, no matter the type of tenancy.

As stated above, you are still contractually obliged to pay your rent, and you should endeavour to do so even if you were served notice in the knowledge that court proceedings are on hold for three months.

If you find yourself still having to move home, then we strongly advise you get in touch with your local council or Citizens Advice Bureau. The law is currently on your side, ensuring that no one should find themselves homeless as a result of the current pandemic. If do find yourself in urgent need of somewhere to live you can also get in touch with us at Heaven Estate Agents and we will go above and beyond to help you find a new home.

Where can I find more information?

If you have any concerns or questions, the Heaven Estate Agents team is on-hand and ready to help. Get in touch with either Salman or Paul and one of them will be more than happy to answer your questions. See below for other sources of information.

The Association of Residential Lettings Agents (ARLA)

Citizens Advice Bureau

UK Government

Watch this space for our next blog post, which will explain how we are helping our landlords survive and thrive during this time of crisis.

Stay safe, everyone.

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