The Government has finally released on Saturday its full pieced together non-statutory guidance for landlords and tenants during the Coronavirus emergency. Click here for the full 21 page document from MHCLG.
The Coronavirus Act 2020 is confirmed to remain in force until 30th September.
1. Rent, mortgage payments and notices seeking possession
The purpose of this advisory guidance is to help landlords and tenants understand the implications of the Coronavirus Act 2020. The Act will mean that, until 30th September 2020, most landlords will not be able to start possession proceedings unless they have given their tenants three-months’ notice. Landlords can choose to give more than this three months’ notice.
2. Court action on housing possession cases during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak
As well as the provisions in the Act, the Master of the Rolls, with the agreement of the Lord Chancellor, has announced the suspension of housing possession cases in the courts – this affects new or existing claims for possession for a 90 day period from 27th March. We strongly advise landlords not to commence new notices seeking possession during this challenging time without a very good reason to do so. It is essential that we work together in these unprecedented circumstances to keep each other safe.
3. Property access and health and safety
The purpose of this advisory guidance is to support and encourage landlords and tenants in adopting a pragmatic, common-sense approach to issues that may arise in the current circumstances. Tenants have a right to a decent, warm and safe place to live – it is in the best interests of both tenants and landlords to ensure that properties are kept in good repair and free from hazards.
1. Rent, mortgage payments and possession proceedings
1.1 As a tenant, should I stop paying rent during the outbreak?
•Tenants should continue to pay rent and abide by all other terms of their tenancy agreement to the best of their ability. The government has a strong package of financial support available to tenants, and where they can pay the rent as normal, they should do. Tenants who are unable to do so should speak to their landlord at the earliest opportunity.
•In many if not most cases, the COVID-19 outbreak will not affect tenants’ ability to pay rent. If your ability to pay will be affected, it’s important to have an early conversation with your landlord. Rent levels agreed in your tenancy agreement remain legally due and you should discuss with your landlord if you are in difficulty.
1.2 What can I do about rent arrears?
•Tenants should continue to pay rent and abide by all other terms of their tenancy agreement to the best of their ability. Tenants who are unable to do so should speak to their landlord at the earliest opportunity.
•As part of our national effort to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak it’s important that landlords offer support and understanding to tenants who may start to see their income fluctuate.•An early conversation between landlord and tenant can help both parties to agree a plan if tenants are struggling to pay their rent. This can include reaching a temporary agreement not to seek possession action for a period of time and instead accept a lower level of rent, or agree a plan to pay off arrears at a later date. Where a landlord does choose to serve notice seeking possession for rent arrears or has done so already, the notice period and any further action will be affected by legislation lengthening the notice period (see Section 1.3) and/or the suspension of possession claims (see Section 2).
•If a landlord and tenant agree a plan to pay off arrears at a later date, it is important they both stick to this plan, and that tenants talk to their landlord immediately if they are unable to do so.
•If a tenant is worried about being unable to pay their rent, or if landlords become aware of tenants who may be in difficulty, advice is available from specialist providers such Shelter, Citizens Advice and The Money Advice Service.
•Local authorities can provide support for tenants to stay in their homes. If you are experiencing financial hardship, you may be able to access new funding; we have already made £500m available to fund households experiencing financial hardship and are determined to take action to support people in need.
•The Coronavirus Act 2020 means that landlords who do issue notices seeking possession will not be able to progress any further before the expiry of the notice. All notices for both the private and social rented sector tenancies are for three months.
•Regardless of this legislation, where tenants have difficulty paying rent over this period, we ask that landlords do not issue a notice seeking possession, particularly given that the tenant may be sick or facing other hardship due to COVID-19.
•During the current period, the Lord Chief Justice has said that applications to suspend warrants of possession should be prioritised, and that judges dealing with any possession claim must have in mind the public health guidance and should not make an order that risks impacting on public health.
1.4 What can I do about mortgage repayments?
•Mortgage lenders have agreed to offer payment holidays of up to three months where this is needed due to Coronavirus-related hardship, including for buy-to-let mortgages. The sum owed remains and mortgages continue to accrue interest during this period.
•Where a tenant is unable to pay their rent in full the landlord – if a mortgagor – should discuss this with their lender.
1.6 As a landlord, should I stop charging rent during the outbreak?
•Landlords are not required to do this. Most tenants will be able to pay rent as normal and should continue to do so, as they will remain liable for the rent during this period.
•There is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach, as each tenant’s circumstance is different and some will be worse affected in terms of their ability to pay than others. It is important for landlords to be flexible and have a frank and open conversation with their tenants at the earliest opportunity, to allow both parties to agree a sensible way forward.
2. Court action on housing possession cases during the coronavirus outbreak
•In addition to the measures in the Coronavirus Act 2020 set out above, the Master of the Rolls, with the agreement of the Lord Chancellor, has issued a Practice Direction to stop possession claims from progressing.
•The suspension will apply for 90 days from 27th March 2020, to all housing possessions proceedings in the rented, leasehold and home ownership sectors.
•This action is in line with public health advice, which has advised against non-essential movement in response to coronavirus.
2.1 What does this mean for landlords and tenants in the private or social rented sectors?
•If you have already been issued with notice of your landlord’s intention to seek possession of the property, or if you are issued notice in the next 90 days, your landlord will not be able to take action through the courts to make you move. This suspension will initially apply for 90 days from the 27th March.
•For landlords, this will mean not expecting tenants to move even where you have already issued notice of your intention to regain possession of the property, or if you go on to issue notice for any reason during the next three months.
3. Property access and health and safety obligations
The Government is asking everyone to do all they can to help stop coronavirus spreading and has published advice on maintaining strict separation from others wherever possible during this unprecedented time.
We are committed to helping to ensure that everyone renting their home has a safe and decent place to live. As part of our national effort to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak it’s vital that local authorities, landlords and tenants work together to keep rented properties safe.
It has never been more important that landlords and tenants take a pragmatic, common-sense approach to resolving issues. Tenants should let their landlords know early if there is a problem and landlords should take the appropriate action.
We understand current restrictions may prevent routine and obligatory inspections. While resources are stretched, we are recommending a pragmatic approach to enforcement from local authorities. This should mean that tenants who are living with serious hazards that a landlord has failed to remedy can still be assured of local authority support.
Landlords should also know they should not be unfairly penalised where COVID-19 restrictions prevent them from meeting some routine obligations.
3.1 What does this mean for repairs in my home?
•Landlords’ repair obligations have not changed. Tenants have a right to a decent, warm and safe place to live – and it is in the best interests of both tenants and landlords to ensure that properties are kept in good repair and free from hazards.
•Good management requires regular review and maintenance of a property, but we understand that planned inspections may be more difficult at this time. However, that is no reason to allow dangerous conditions to persist.
•You should inform your landlord early and engage constructively in the event that you encounter any issues with the condition of their property, and the effect of current restrictions should be considered.
•In these unprecedented times we encourage tenants and landlords to take a pragmatic, common-sense approach to non-urgent issues which are affected by COVID-19 related restrictions.
3.2 What if my boiler breaks, or something else happens which is an urgent risk to my health?
•Landlords’ repair obligations have not changed.
•Where reasonable, safe for you and in line with other Government guidance, we recommend that you allow local authorities, landlords or contractors access to your property in order to inspect or remedy urgent health and safety issues.
•Urgent health and safety issues are those which will affect your ability to live safely and maintain your mental and physical health in your home. This could include (but is not limited to):
− If there is a problem with the fabric of your building, for example the roof is leaking
− If your boiler is broken, leaving you without heating or hot water
− If there is a plumbing issue, meaning you don’t have washing or toilet facilities
− If your white goods such as fridge or washing machine have broken, meaning you are unable to wash clothes or store food safely
− If there is a security-critical problem, such as a broken window or external door
− If equipment a disabled person relies on requires installation or repair
•You can find further guidance on visits to properties to make repairs click here
3.7 Someone in my House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) has the virus, is my landlord obliged to remove them or find me another place to stay?
•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 you are living in accommodation which you share with other people, or share facilities with other people, you should follow current Public Health England guidance. If you are having to leave accommodation, you should seek alternative accommodation, or get in touch with your local authority
3.9 What about my legal obligations to provide regular gas and electrical safety inspections? Will I be prosecuted if I can’t get access because I or my tenants are self-isolating?
•Landlords must provide tenants with all necessary gas and electrical safety and any other relevant certification at the beginning of a tenancy (and carry out all scheduled inspections and tests where required). Where inspections have already been carried out, documents can be provided by post or in some circumstances it may be possible to provide digital copies.
•Landlords should make every effort to abide by existing gas safety regulations and electrical safety regulations which come into force on 1 July. There are provisions in both regulations to account for situations in which a landlord cannot do this (see boxbelow), and they must demonstrate they have taken all reasonable steps to comply with the law.
•We are encouraging local authorities and other enforcement agencies to take a pragmatic, common-sense approach to enforcement in these unprecedented times. You can read the latest guidance for landlords and Gas Safe engineers and inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive click here
•If you are not able to gain access to the property due to restrictions in place to tackle COVID-19, or are not able to engage a contractor to carry out the necessary work, we recommend you document your attempts to do so and all correspondence with your tenants.