The government has now updated the law regarding works that are required to properties during Covid-19. Also viewings and how these are to take place now that they have opened up the lettings and estate agent industry. Opening up an industry overnight without giving them any prior warning will always lead to problems.
What are my responsibilities as a landlord?
Do I need to ensure my letting agent, if I have one, is looking after my property correctly and carrying out viewings in the right way?
We enclose in this guide what can be done and what cannot be done as well as the potential pitfalls as a landlord. COVID-19 has turned the world upside down but landlords still have a responsibility to their tenants.
If I send a contractor to a property do I have any responsibility to ensure his working practice within it?
You are responsibly for ay contractor that you may send into a property. You have to ensure that your contractor has a COVID-19 policy at the very least. There are certain rules that we will outline that the contractor has to carry out, it is absolutely critical that you get some form of confirmation that they have a policy. If not we wouldn’t send a contractor round. You need to understand that you are potentially liable in the event that there is an issue. Your insurance may not cover you for this if you don’t find out.
You have to think about the risks and they will need to do a risk assessment.
They will need to assess and manage the risk of COVID-19. In effect, by you instructing the contractor you have a legal responsibility to ensure that the workers are protecting themselves. If you employ them direct, and they work for you, then you are fully responsible. This means you need to think about the risks that they face and do anything reasonable and practical to minimise them.
You must ensure that a risk assessment is carried out for the address. As risk assessment is not about creating huge amounts of paperwork, but rather identifying sensible measures to control risks in the work place. You will have a duty to consult anybody you employ on a health and safety basis.
Thinking about managing the risk.
The whole idea of this is to reduce the risk to the lowest reasonable practical level by taking preventative measures. You must ensure that your contractors take this very seriously including any health and safety responsibilities.
There are simple rules;
a) Every works area should have the increased frequency of hand washing and service cleaning.
b) They must follow the social distancing guidelines already set out by the government.
c) They should ensure that any tenants they encounter have a social distancing understanding. It would be best if the tenants were not at the property at all when the works took place.
d) Other mitigating actions will include increasing the frequency of hand washing and service cleaning. Keeping the work to a bare minimum, using screens or barriers to separate people from each other, using back to back or side to side working other than face to face. Reducing the number of people each person has to contact by using fixed teams or partnering.
e) They need to ensure that any face to face work for sustained periods of time if this is involved whether this is acceptable and if not find another way of working.
f) In the assessment they should take particular regard to whether people doing the works are especially vulnerable.
What will I need to do also when working in peoples homes?
1. No works should ever be carried out in a household which is isolating because one or more family members have symptoms, or where an individual has been advised to shield. This should only take place if there is direct risk to the safety of the household. Your tenants therefore can deny access for any works to be carried out if they are vulnerable or shielding. This is fundamental.
2. If the tenants do allow contractors in where a household is vulnerable but has not been asked to shield, then prior arrangements should be made for the vulnerable people to avoid any face to face contact. This would for example include answering the door. An example of this would be the contractor knocks on the door and stands back two meters. The tenants will open the door then move to a room that is at least two meters away from where the works will be carried out. The contractor enters and shuts the door. The contractor must wear gloves and a face mask and if at all possible shoe protectors. They then carry out the works, wipe down the area that they have finished at, then call to the tenant to let them know that they are leaving the premises. The tenant should then be ask to ensure that they wipe doe the area again for their own safety.
3. The contractor should ensure that before they go in they wash their hands with soap and water or a hand sanitiser. If they use tools on a regular basis they should ensure that these are cleaned at the beginning and end of every day to reduce any risk of passing infection on to other people.
Should my contractor keep the works area clean even if it is in an empty house?
Absolutely they should ensure that the areas in the work space are clean and prevent the transmission by touching contaminated surfaces.
Steps that will normally be needed will be;
a) Frequently cleaning or objects and surfaces that are touched regularly.
b) Arranging methods of safe disposing of waste.
c) Removing all waste and belongings from the works area at the end of every day.
d) Washing their hands for at least 20 seconds by using soap and hot water.
e) Using face masks if at all possible.
f) If hand washing facilities are not accessible they should use hand sanitiser.
I have my property on the market and want to have viewings carried out, what do I need to do?
There is now a huge area of rules and regulations for carrying out viewings and inspections in relation to a property. The government are trying to ensure that business are opening as soon as is possible but in a safe way. You can therefore carry out viewings as well as inspections if they are absolutely necessary.
What happens to people who are vulnerable or shielding?
They government recognise people who are shielding or otherwise vulnerable may have needs to move home. However it has to be in balance with the increased risk of COVID-19. They have made it clear to the property industry that in the even that a tenant confirms that they are shielding or vulnerable, they should not enter the property if the tenants does not wish them to do so. You can therefore not force a tenant at any point to enter the property.
What if people are self-isolating or have tested positive for COVID-19?
In these circumstances the government do not feel it is appropriate for people who impose a risk of transmitting COVID-19. People who are self-isolating should not leave their home or undertake any property viewings. If there are already contractually committed to moving home then they should look to try and delay this.
How should viewings be conducted?
People should use virtual viewings before visiting properties in person where possible, in order to minimise the public health risk. If any member of the household being viewed, or the household understanding the viewing, are showing symptoms of COVID-19 or are self-isolating then the physical viewing should be delayed. All viewings have to take place by appointment and only involve members of a single household.
The rules are as follows;
1. They encourage people to do their property search online where ever possible. Initial viewings should be done virtually and physical viewings should only be conducted where people are seriously considering making an offer on the property.
2. Agents, or landlords, may ask the home occupier to conduct virtual viewings i.e. to record a video showing their property.
3. Any physical viewings should be conducted by appointment only and no open house viewings should take place.
4. If the property is being viewed then the tenants should open all doors prior to the viewing and allow access to hand washing felicities and ideally separate towels/paper towels.
5. Encouragement should be made for the tenant to vacate the property whilst viewings take place in order to minimise the contact.
6. When viewing a property all parties should either wash their hands and avoid touching surfaces where possible. Agents/landlords will ask to restrict the number of people attending a viewing so that social distancing can be practised.
7. Agents/landlord can accompany viewings but social distancing rules must take place.
8. If you do not have hand washing facilities then hand sanitiser should be provided by the agent/landlord before entering the property.
9. Once the viewing has taken place the homeowner should ensure surfaces such as door handles are cleaned with standard household cleaning products and paper towels.
10. Although not a rules, we would suggest that all people wishing to view wear gloves and a face mask in order to protect themselves as well as the tenants.
11. You should always communicate all of the above rules to the tenants prior to doing any viewings so that the tenants are aware.
I have an estate agent who is dealing with my property are there any rules and regulations they now need to adhere to?
The details the agents have the adhere to are as follows;
a) Agents should ask whether any parties are showing symptoms of COVID-19 or have been asked to self-isolate ahead of the viewing.
b) Agents should use a points system to visits to their offices and when conducting viewings.
c) Agents should not carry out open house viewings.
d) Agents should strongly encourage clients to view property virtually in the first instance. Then only physically attended a property which they have a strong interest in.
e) Agents can accompany physical viewings and seek to maintain a minimum of 2 meters distance from others where possible. Where social distancing is not possible and the visit is in an enclosed space they should consider wearing a face covering within the government guidelines.
f) Where agents do not accompany a visit they should make sure that both buyers and sellers/landlord and tenants understand how the viewings should be conducted safely.
g) Agents should not drive clients to appointments.
h) All parties viewing a property should wash their hands with soap and water or use hand sanitiser if not available. Immediately after entering the property the internal door should be open and surfaces wipes down before they enter. However all applicants should be requested not to touch anything.
i) Agents should do what they can to ensure flexibility when arranging move dates.
j) Agents should works with their clients and other agents to arrange a new date if the parties fall ill with COVID-19 or are self-isolating.
k) Agent should ensure that the keys are cleaned before handover.
l) Lettings agents should not conduct viewings in properties where tenants are symptomatic, self-isolating or where it has been deemed then are clinically vulnerable or shielding.
All of the above is extremely important and landlord should ensure that they are fully covered in this regard.