Mark Harrington, our managing director wrote this article. He has nearly 30 years industry experience from running his own letting agency. He wanted to share his thoughts on a few trends that have occurred recently. These include tenants not paying their rent or wanting to break their contract and what you can and cannot do. There seems to be a minefield of misinformation from various sources currently, so it is important that you understand the law. That is why we have put together this helpful guide on trying to resolve issues with your tenants.
Communication is absolutely key when dealing with any tenant. You should not sit and wait for your tenants to contact you if the rent due date passes and you do not receive any payment. You need to communicate with them as a matter of urgency and we will always suggest by way of email. You want to make sure that you record anything for the future. In the event that the worst-case scenario happens and that you have to take the matter to court, it’s important that you show that you have been compassionate, understanding and tried to help the tenant. However, the fundamental guidelines from the Government is that rent is still due legally. We suggest that you contact your tenants the day after the rent is due asking why it has not been paid and when they propose to pay it. Keeping in touch during these difficult times is absolutely critical.
What can I ask for from my tenant?
It is reasonable to ask a tenant for their full financial position . Just saying that they cannot pay the rent is not acceptable. They have to tell you that they are in actual financial hardship and set out the reasons why. We would suggest that you politely request full financial details on how they propose to pay the rent and what income they have coming in. There is a huge amount of help out there which we will outline later. If they can give you the full details of their financial situation. Then you can look at exactly what they can pay and what they cannot. If they refuse to give you this information then it would be unreasonable. It also shows that they feel they do not have to make payment.
Should I point out that the rent is still due?
Yes, you should point out that the rent is still due under the terms of the contract and this has not changed, despite the difficult situation we are all in. They have a legal duty to ensure they make payment and this has not changed.
What schemes are out there to help tenants?
There are numerous schemes for individuals that tenants may be able to apply for. We have found over the last few weeks that a lot of tenants are not aware of the help that they can receive. We outline some examples as follows;
Some tenants will be entitled to Universal Credit, but it does depend on each individual’s circumstances. They could also request a crisis loan from the local authority to help with any payment of rent. The loan is repayable but it would help.
The most recent government scheme includes directors too. If your tenant has their own business and pays themselves with dividends and a personal allowance on PAYE, they are entitled to Furlough themselves and just do organisational working items. This would allow them to make a claim to pay 80% of the PAYE that they usually receive. We have found that many tenants are not aware that they can do this and have now spoken to their accountant.
This is more difficult as self-employed people will not be getting any help from the Government until June. This is a long time but it doesn’t exclude them from applying for Universal Credit in the meantime. From June, there will be assistance available which will help alleviate the pressure from any qualifying self-employed tenants.
Students, are they still required to pay their rent?
We have had many students come to us regarding their rent. Some students have had a tendency to think that as they are self-isolating elsewhere they don’t have to pay their rent. This, unfortunately, is not the case. It is down to the individual landlord to communicate with the tenant on whether they wish to give them a rent reduction or to terminate their tenancies early. However, under the terms of the contract the rent it still payable. Students are in a better position than most as they are receiving their maintenance loans and should therefore be able to pay their rent. You would need to point out their responsibility. We find it helps to ask for full details of the maintenance loan and when it is payable. It is often the case that the students have the money but don’t necessarily wish to pay it over.
Tenants can still apply for local jobs. We have had many tenants not realise that there is work out there for them and there are local jobs available. There are companies such as Reed, Indeed and local recruitment companies that are still able to supply work for people.
If they have a business and have a shop then they are entitled to a grant from the government which will be automatically paid to them. They need to apply themselves. This can be anywhere between £10,000 – £25,000 and is a non-repayable grant so should enable them to pay their rent.
How do I communicate this with my tenant?
We will list out at the end of this article links to the Government website. So you can copy and paste from Google any relating to local jobs. It shows that you are trying to help your tenant as much as is possible and shows them that you do understand their financial position.
Do I need to disclose my financial position to tenants?
No you do not, however, it is always best to communicate both ways. If you feel it would be helpful to the situation then you may wish to disclose it. We have found with many tenants that they think landlords have “holidays” with their mortgage payment. This is not the case. All it is, is a deferral of the payment. It will still need to be paid in 3 months’ time or a plan put together to make payment. We have found that many tenants believe that landlords don’t have to make mortgage payments and so the tenants don’t think that they should have to make payment. You need to get across to them it is not a “holiday” ie no payment made but a deferral. We often find that by explaining this the tenants attitude changes quite dramatically.
Should I enter into a payment plan on rental?
It is a matter for you on whether you enter into a deferred payment plan or a rent reduction for a period. Each individual landlord must look at their own financial situation and what they wish to do and help with the tenant. A reduction would mean that you would not receive the rent later on and you cannot go back on this once agreed in future. You also may have legal issues if you wish to change the contract at a later date. In respect of the deferral you need to make this very clear that if you defer any form of rent that they agree to some form of payment plan. This doesn’t guarantee that the tenants will pay the rent but at least you have a plan set out with payment dates. If they are not adhered to then you can always cancel the payment plan and ask for the full rent. It is always worth setting the scene on exactly what you expect from the payment plan and how it will work. We would suggest that any deferral of rent does not exceed the amount of the deposit that you hold. We will come on to deposit later but as an example. If the rent was £1200 and the tenant wanted to defer £400 for 3 months then the deposit covers the deferred amount in the event that the tenant didn’t pay it.
We have always taken guarantors with all our tenants and have done this for many years. Whilst it does restrict the finding of a tenant in the market it always gives you a guarantee that your rent is going to be paid. If you do have a guarantor then try to communicate with them and find out what their financial position is so that you can help them to help the tenants. We have already stated above that communication is absolutely key when dealing with all parties. The same applies to guarantors.
Should I defer or reduce the rent long term?
Nobody knows when the situation is going to change and people will be able to go back to work. It is totally a matter for you and what you wish to do with your individual tenants. This will relate to your own financial situation and whether you feel you are able to help them.
Do I have to release a tenant from a tenancy and can they just leave?
No, a fixed term tenant means they have a commitment for a fixed term and so the tenants are not entitled to just return the keys. Even if they move out, they are liable for the rent until the end of the term. Obviously, if you hold a deposit and no guarantor then it would not be in your interest to pursue the tenant for unpaid rent unless you believe they have financial means to pay the rent. To cancel an Assured Shorthold tenancy there must be mutual consent with the tenants and landlord. Tenants cannot just walk away, we often find that they are not aware of this. It needs to be pointed out to them so that they understand their liability.
Should I use the deposit?
It is always difficult to suggest use of the deposit, especially if you don’t have a guarantor and they leave the property in a state. Obviously not all tenants are the same and some are totally respectful but there is the odd one that may cause a problem. You would need to consider this very seriously before releasing it. There are alternative schemes where the tenant can take an insurance policy out that covers the deposit. They pay a premium to cover the deposit and then this could be released back to you to pay the rent. This would cover you in future.
I have exhausted all avenues with my tenant but they are still not paying the rent can I serve them with notice?
Tenants may believe that you are not entitled to serve them with a notice to leave the property because of temporary changes made by the government during this COVID period – this is not the case. Yes the law has changed but you are still entitled to serve notice on tenants either under a Section 8 or Section 21 notice. The new law states that you now have to serve the notice 3 months in advance. There is currently a suspension in the courts for position hearings for 90 days from the 27th March 2020. However, if you wish to serve the notice on the tenant to leave for not paying their rent then you can do so. It is extremely important that this notice is correct and you must not get it wrong. You can also issue claims against the tenant, although the court won’t hear your case until the end of the 90 days.
Mari Knowles of Commonhold and Leasehold Experts (www.commonholdandleaseholdexperts.co.uk) is currently running free webinars for landlords who would like advice on the temporary changes to possession claims, rent arrears collection, securing possession, and what will happen to possession claims already started. If you would like to join one of her sessions, please email Mari on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do I still have to carry out repairs to the property?
Yes, absolutely, your obligations have not changed what so ever and it is important that you still carry out all repairing obligations. It is dependent on the terms of your contract whether the tenants can withhold rent because works not being carried out. The new law under the Unfit for Human Habitation Act requires landlords to carry out works within a reasonable period of time. If you cannot find a contractor that is willing to carry out the work and you have exhausted as many contractors as you can then it would be reasonable to except this. Once the lockdown is over , work would need to be carried out almost immediately. We find that there are still contractors out there who are able to obtain materials and carry out works.
Gas Safeties, are these still required?
Yes, absolutely. There has been no relaxation on anything in relation to gas safeties. It is absolutely imperative to carry these out before the due date. Not only do you need to carry these out but you have to serve them on the tenant and have them acknowledge them within 30 days.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you find a plumber who is able to do this for you and then get the tenant to sign it. Social distancing must take place and you need to ensure that the plumber is aware of this. Also that you liaise direct with the tenant and plumber to ensure that everybody’s health and welfare is taken into account. For instance the plumber can knock on the door then stand 2 meters away, the tenant can open it then go to a room away from the plumber. The plumber goes into the room where the boiler is, carries out the work, wipes it down after then confirms to the tenant that they are done. The government has given specific advice to landlords on these requirements so we would suggest that you take a look at, and follow, their guidance too.
Are EICR’s still required?
The Government has not relaxed the rules on EICRs that are due to renew from the 1st July for new contracts and for renewal April 2021. So you still have time to do these in any event.
It is important that you communicate direct with your tenant and find out what their position is. Communication is always key in these instances. We find that tenants often don’t realise that there is more help out there then they are aware of not only from the local authority but also the Government. There are often local jobs available and there are deposit alternatives that can be used to help them release the deposit to help pay their rent.
If your property is empty and the residents have left and are self-isolating else where. It is absolutely critical that you inform your insurance company. You policy may not cover you if you do not inform your insurance company when they leave. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have a policy with ourselves to do this.