Litigation Executive Hayley Gaffney answers ten questions, which landlords and tenants are asking in light of new Government guidance following the launch of the Coronavirus Act 2020.
The Government has recently issued guidance which attempts to answer some of the questions being raised by both landlords and tenants in light of the Coronavirus Act 2020. The guidance addresses how changes to the legislation will affect landlords and tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Questions from landlords
1. Can I still serve notice on my tenant?
Although there is nothing to stop a landlord from serving notice seeking possession, the guidance asks that landlords do not issue notices unless they have a very good reason to do so.
The guidance says that until 30 September 2020, landlords will not be able to start possession proceedings unless they have given their tenants a minimum of three months’ notice. This applies to both section 8 and section 21 notices.
2. The notice period has expired, can I still issue court proceedings against my tenant?
All new or existing housing possession cases have been suspended for a 90-day period from 27 March 2020.
In addition, all applications to suspend warrants for possession are being prioritised. Judges dealing with any possession claim have been advised not make an order which risks impacting on public health.
Here at Coodes, our experience has been that the courts have been issuing the possession claims and then immediately staying (pausing) them until the suspension is lifted. This means that the claim is ‘in the queue’, ready to be dealt with as soon as the suspension is lifted.
3. Should I stop charging rent during the outbreak?
Landlords are not required to stop charging rent. Most tenants will continue to be able to pay their rent, and should do so.
However, each tenant’s circumstances will be different, and some will be more affected in relation to their ability to pay rent than others. The guidance suggests landlords should try to be flexible and have an open conversation with their tenants at the earliest possible opportunity. That way both parties can agree a sensible way forward, including an affordable repayment plan if tenants fall into rent arrears.
4. My tenant has fallen into arrears, what can I do?
In many cases, the COVID-19 outbreak will not affect tenants’ ability to pay rent. However, given the unprecedented circumstances, it is important that landlords offer support and understanding to tenants whose income has been impacted.
An early conversation between landlord and tenant can help both parties come to an agreement, such as accepting a lower level of rent or agreeing a plan to pay off arrears at a later date.
Where a landlord chooses to serve notice seeking possession of the property for rent arrears, the notice period and any further action will also be subject to the lengthened notice period of three months and suspension of possession claims as outlined above.
5. My tenant will not allow me to get the EPC or gas safety check done
Landlords are required by law to provide tenants with all necessary gas safety and EPC documentation at the beginning of the tenancy, as well as carry out all scheduled inspections and tests when required.
The guidance says that landlords should make every effort to abide by existing gas safety regulations. Although a tenant would not be required to be in direct contact with any contractors, they may still refuse access to the property. This should not be an excuse to stop access unless absolutely necessary. Social distancing measures can be put in place, for instance the relevant contractor could work in the house while the tenant is in the garden.
If a tenant prevents access for an inspection, the landlord would be required to demonstrate that they have taken all reasonable steps (and document these) to prove that they have attempted to comply with existing regulations.
6. Am I allowed access to repair the property?
Landlords’ obligations to repair their properties have not changed and tenants continue to have the right to a decent, warm and safe place to live.
Planned inspections may be more difficult at this time, but this is not an excuse to allow tenants to live in dangerous conditions.
The guidance suggests that landlords and tenants take a common-sense approach to any issues with the condition of the property.
Where reasonable, safe and in-line with Government guidance, it is recommended that tenants allow landlords and contractors access to the property in order to inspect or remedy any urgent health and safety issues. These could include plumbing issues, a broken boiler or a problem with the fabric of the building, such as a leaking roof.
7. One of my tenants has the virus. What should I do?
Nobody can be removed from their home because of the virus. Landlords are not obliged to provide alternative accommodation for tenants if others in the property contract the virus. If they choose to move out and, for instance, stay with friends or family because of the situation, they are still obliged to pay their rent for the entire period.
There is further Government guidance for keeping the home clean and ensuring that the risks of passing the virus to others are diminished as much as possible.
Questions from tenants
1. My landlord is taking a mortgage holiday. Do I still have to pay rent?
Mortgage lenders have agreed to offer payment holidays of up to three months where needed due to Coronavirus-related hardship, including for buy-to-let mortgages.
Tenants should continue to pay rent and abide by all other terms of their tenancy agreement to the best of their ability irrespective of whether or not their landlord has taken a mortgage holiday. Tenants who can pay their rent as normal should do so.
If a tenant is unable to pay their rent in full and a landlord is relying on the rent to pay their mortgage repayments, the landlord should discuss this as soon as possible with their mortgage lender.
The most important thing to remember is that the landlord is entitled to the entirety of the rent. Even if they agree a reduction for a short period, this does not mean that the arrears are not repayable.
2. What will happen if my landlord does not pay his mortgage and the property is repossessed? Will I have to move out?
The suspension of housing possession cases will also apply to possession cases brought by mortgagees against homeowners. That means that no repossessions by mortgage companies will take place during the period of the suspension.
3. I am a lodger, does this apply to me?
All tenants and licensees who benefit from protection from eviction under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 will be included in this guidance. Lodgings, holiday lets, hostel accommodation and accommodation for asylum seekers are excluded.
Coodes’ Disputes Team can assist with this and offer a number of fixed fees for this type of work. Please contact Hayley Gaffney at firstname.lastname@example.org who specialises in this area of work and she will be able to assist you.
For more advice on any of these issues, contact Hayley Gaffney or Jenny Carter in Coodes Solicitors’ Personal Disputes team on email@example.com or 01726 874700.