Covid Update – 10th November 2020

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Covid Update – 10th November 2020 – Government clarifies the position on possession cases

We are now going into the second lockdown so this is an update on the Covid rules. The Justice Secretary has confirmed that during the lockdown there will be no enforcement of possession orders. Except for serious cases.

This will no doubt cause landlords a huge amount of problems. Unless they have serious arrears and it is down to the judge’s discretion. There is already a huge amount of backlog of cases. Which the courts are working through so landlords seem to be very stuck.

Exceptions to the cases are:

illegal trespassing and squatting, tenants engaging in antisocial behaviour, fraud or deception.

The Government has also confirmed. It will bring forward an exemption from the enforcement ban for cases that relate to extreme pre-covid rent arrears.

The announcement from the Government comes alongside the extension of the furlough scheme and equal support for the self-employed. Which is due to be extended until March 2021.

A recent survey in September stated that 9% of private renters were reliant upon the furlough scheme. So this is good news for landlords.

The extension of the furlough scheme and the support for the self-employed will now be a lifeline for many tenants. So that they can help work with their landlords.

What happens with house moves?

The Government have decided that Letting and Estate Agents can stay open during the second lockdown from the 5th November. Whilst this is to last until the 2nd December it may go beyond this. There is previous guidance on how Letting Agents, landlords and Estate Agents together with contractors should conduct themselves during the current crisis. This has resulted in a many Letting Agents and landlords operating and focusing on remote viewings and restrictions on house moving unless necessary.

The Housing Minister has confirmed that the new lockdown allows for the housing market to stay open.

Are there restrictions on moving?

There are national guidelines and it applies to all three local covid alert levels. If local restrictions are in place in the area then you need to check the local lockdown guidance. There is a guide on the Government website. That has a postcode checker that you can use click here.

Are courts now closed?

Courts closed during the previous lockdown. But this is not now the case during the current one from the 5th November to the 2nd December. The Government has confirmed that the courts will stay open during the national lockdown. To help landlords and tenants resolve their cases. We have already mentioned above there is a huge backlog of cases. We would suggest that you speak to your legal representative on whether the cases are to be heard or not.

Can the Possession orders be enforced?

Unfortunately, landlords should be aware that bailiffs and High Court enforcement officers are restricted in enforcing judgements.

The new rules from the 5th November stated that officers should not enforce warrants or writs during the lockdown. Except in very specific circumstances.

Warrants can only be enforced as follows:-

  1. a) Where a claim is being made against trespassers.
  2. b) The landlord has sought possession using a Section 8 Notice. Possession was granted on the basis of grounds 7(a) or 14 which are anti-social behaviour and knowingly making a false statement.
  3. c) The landlord has sought possession using grounds 7. Which is a death of a tenant only where the bailiffs satisfied that the properties unoccupied at the point of attendance.
  4. d) We confirm that a further exemption is planned. Which will allow landlords to enforce possession orders against tenants with extreme rent arrears which have built up before the pandemic. These have not yet been laid out by the Government. But details are expected soon and we would suggest that you subscribe to the Government website that will give you updates on this.

Can my contractors work in peoples home during the term?

If you are a landlord a Letting Agent or a contractor. Part of your responsibilities will include working in other people’s homes. When the last restriction was put in place. Essential work could still continue but this was balanced against the perceived risk of spreading infection. There are set criteria for the contractors to adhere to. To include face masks, washing down areas before working and washing down areas after working. They are also to wear gloves where at all possible. Some contractors have decided it is not worth their while and won’t proceed. It is down to the individual person.

The latest legislation on this lockdown is less restrictive than the previous one. Landlords, their agents, and their contractors are allowed to enter homes. To perform work relating to maintenance or letting of the property and may continue to let and arrange viewings for the property. The letting agents must ensure that not only do they agree with the existing tenant how to do a viewing, but that they all wear gloves, face masks and foot coverings if required.

You as a landlord must also do the same when entering someone’s house and give them due notice. It is important that you adhere to the restrictions that are in place. As tenants could claim that the landlord is harassing them if they enter the property without any form of notice. It is always important to record conversations. Either by email, texts etc. but if it is by text always ensure that you download this to a computer. So that you can refer to it at a later date.

Landlords will still need to assess whether the work is necessary and balance against the risk of spreading the virus. This must always be the case where the tenant is more vulnerable. The landlord should consider delaying none essential works where possible. But essential works should still go ahead and follow the Government guidance. Please click here for this.

It is important that as winter approaches and temperatures continue to drop landlords should especially be aware of potential issues with heating systems during this time. You will often find that tenants are starting to turn their boilers on now and often there are problems. There are more people working from home who have less access to alternative washing facilities. So a broken boilers considered a high priority work and should be done immediately.

Is there separate guidance for highly vulnerable tenants?

For tenants that were classed before as “shielding” the Government will be contacting them to tell them of their status.

It is not like the last lockdown. They are not advised to completely shield but encouraged not to go to work and only to leave the house for exercise. Landlords who have tenants in this situation should be particular mindful. Especially when it comes to home visits and potential problems with rent payment if they have to take statutory sick pay. Please see our previous article here that deals with arrears and how to communicate with tenants.

What are the rules that I need to adhere to when entering my tenant’s property.

The advice to start with is to avoid entering the property unless the work has to be done. The Government has published guidelines for the letting industry. It has asked all parties to consider what measures can be undertaken remotely. To avoid any unnecessary face to face encounters with tenants click here.

If you do need to enter the property. You need to ensure that you contact the tenants ahead of schedule to outline the social distancing measures that you will be following during your visit. It is important that when you arrive at the property you also remind them of your processes i.e. what social distancing you will be taking.

If you are working in a confined space you need to be wearing a mask at all times you are in the property. If you are employing people on your behalf then you need to ensure that they are as well. You should ask your contractor to provide their COVID-19 policy.

You should ensure that you change your clothes after any visits. As there is some small evidence that coronavirus remains on fabric for a small period of time. If there is any produce or any waste it must be removed before you leave the property.

If you do have various people working with you you need to ensure that you are not swapping tools etc.

Can I market and arrange property viewings for my property in England?

You are still entitled to market your property and arrange viewings under the tier restrictions and the new lock down.

But you need to ensure that all parties are following social distancing measures. Tenants, landlords and agents are free to visit properties for viewings, moving in, cleaning the property after check out etc. The letting agencies can stay open and tenants may leave the house to visit offices to.

There are updates on viewings on how they should take place as follows:-

  1. a) You should not carry out any viewings of any nature where a prospective or current tenant have any symptoms that are linked to coronavirus.
  2. b) Initial viewings should be done virtually where at all possible. If the tenant is still at the property you should ask them to record a virtual tour to accommodate this where you may find that your letting agent is able to do this for you.
  3. c) All physical viewings should be arranged by appointment and should be limited to the members of the same household and open viewings should not take place. Open viewings are when there are many people wanting to see the property. Whilst viewings are taking place every effort should be made to ensure that nobody touches any surfaces in the property. Letting agents and landlords can go with prospective tenants on the viewing but they should ensure that they are social distancing.
  4. d) Letting agents and landlords should ensure that they wear face masks and gloves where at all possible. Touch as little as possible when entering the property.
  5. e) If the current tenants wish to be at the property whilst the viewing takes place then social distancing should occur. Or, you should ask the tenant to leave the property.
  6. f) The property should be viewed after the existing tenant has vacated. Where this is not possible the tenant should go out for viewings. Ensuring that the property is well ventilated and windows kept open before they leave. They should clean all the surfaces at the property with household cleaning products after the viewing is complete.
  7. g) If the tenants are contacted and do not wish you to enter the property now then you should wait until it is vacant before carrying out viewings or rearrange it with them. They are entitled to refuse access.
  8. h) Where people are classed as extremely clinically vulnerable previously known as shielding. Accommodation should be made to ensure that the tenant does not have to be present for viewings as per the Government guidelines.

Can check ins and check outs be arranged during this period?

It is important that you try and deal with as few people as possible during this time. If you need to try and deal with the lead tenant and arrange to meet them as well as ensuring that the keys you provide have been cleaned.

Before the check in the properties cleaned throughout to include any risk of contamination. This is even the case if the previous tenants have left it clean.

New tenants are advised to pack their belongings themselves. Including boxes cleaned with household cleaning products before providing them to removal firms.

If you are a student landlord and have an HMO property then these are more difficult. Please see this link here.

Do I still need to perform property inspections and visits during this period?

Landlords are still under a legal obligation to ensure that their properties kept in good repair. That inspections carried out. Yet, it must be balanced against any risk of infection and spread of the virus.

Routine repairs and inspections performed yet if you or a contractor need to visit the property then they need to follow the guidance.

Anyone that is self-isolating’s advised to avoid having any visitors to their home unless the repair work is needed to prevent a threat to their safety or life. If the tenant informs you that they are self-isolating any plans should be cancelled and rearranged for a later date. It is absolutely necessary that all these items are documented.

I have to perform a right to rent check do I still need to meet the tenant in person.

There are new rules regarding the right to manage and these are being updated all the time. We suggest that you follow this link here.

What if my tenant is self-isolating but we still need to perform the repairs to the property as they are urgent.

If someone is self-isolating their advised to avoid any visitors to their home for at least 10 to 14 days. This can affect you to inspect the properties and organize maintenance and repairs.

It is important that you keep all the correspondence with your tenants recorded. If access is required for urgent repairs. Then landlords can make a judgement on the urgency of the situation where there is a threat to health or life and the seriousness of the repair when scheduling it.

For instance if there is disrepair leading to damp or extreme cold in the property this should be dealt with promptly. It is important that you adhere to the Government guidelines that are laid out.

Would you like a quote for your landlord’s buildings insurance? Do you have the right cover and at the right price? Contact us here.

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