How Do I let Legally and Safely during the Lockdown?

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How Do I let Legally and Safely during the Lockdown

With the pandemic, many people who have lost jobs or are on furlough feel that their dream of owning a home will never come true.  As a result, many are looking for places to rent.   So, while the demand for letting is still there, along with it come many factors that need consideration by a landlord.  To assist you with the details is one of the most experienced selling and letting agents in Hyde Park,  Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Kay & Co.

The main factor while letting property is to ensure that the transactions are safely and legally completed.  The facility of online virtual viewing solves part of the problem, but the landlord needs to be aware of several issues that have come into effect with the lockdown.

Maintenance of property:

Landlords are responsible for providing the tenant with a comfortable and safe place to stay.

The property should be kept in good condition, and repairs and maintenance work to the exterior and interior can be carried out in keeping with the Government guidelines.

Safety inspections (gas, electric and fire) can be undertaken, with due notice to the tenants, ensuring social distancing and provided they are carried out according to the regulations.

For clinically vulnerable tenants, you will need to follow the guidelines applicable.

However, when tenants are self-isolating, no work should be carried out by landlords or contractors entering the premises, unless it is an emergency and involves a safety risk to the property.

Where a tenant is not self-isolating but refuses access to the property, the landlord has the power to gain access, but a court order may be required.  Hence, it is advisable if an amicable solution can be reached by a discussion between the landlord and tenant.

Work on empty properties:

There is no ban on repair or renovation work being done on vacant properties to get them ready for rental or sale.  Of course, social distancing and hygiene will have to be observed.

Provision of services: 

This will depend on the terms of the Lease Agreement and, unless a force majeure clause is included, the landlord will be required to provide services as per the agreement.  However, if the lockdown does not make it possible to provide the services, due to staff or contractor sickness, the landlord should not be liable for failure to do so.

Shared spaces:

If the building has non-essential shared spaces and social areas where social distancing would be impossible, they should be closed.

If tenants share essential spaces, they should follow the guidelines and maintain as much distancing as possible.

If tenants develop Covid symptoms or for the clinically extremely vulnerable, they should not enter the communal spaces, even if they are open.

Notice periods: 

With the Coronavirus Act 2020, there has been a change in the notice periods to be served by landlords to tenants.  They have been extended and are as follows:

  • Section 21(4D)  –  10 months from the date it is given to the tenant,
  • Section 21(4E) – 4 months from the date specified in the notice as the date after which possession is required.
  • Section 8 – remains unchanged, and the notice period is 12 months.

Your estate agent will explain the details covered by the above Sections.

If you have served your tenant with notice and need to serve another notice, the first one should be withdrawn before a new notice is served.

On the expiry of the notice period, the tenant cannot be forced to leave without a court order.  However, landlords are advised not to commence legal eviction but, instead, to consider mediation (involving an independent third party to assist in reaching a mutually acceptable agreement without going to court) if there are any disputes on rent or other matters.

Rent reduction:

Given the difficulties caused by the pandemic, some landlords have been willing to reduce rent payments, temporarily or permanently.  In such a case, there is no need to repay part of the deposit immediately as the deposit cap is based on the rent value at the time of the agreement and any reduction in rent would not impact the deposit amount.

Mortgage holiday:

With the mortgage payment “holiday” extended,  borrowers who have a Buy to Let mortgage or whose tenants have been impacted by Covid are entitled to a grace period of 6 months.  For those landlords who may still be concerned about their finances, they can discuss further options with their lenders.

Conclusion: 

The terms of the Lease Agreement are most significant, and hence it is advisable to get a legal opinion before finalising the Agreement.  Many items such as rent reduction, closure of premises, tenant’s compliance to agree to reasonable regulations to follow PHE or HPS guidance, possession of premises for breaches other than non-payment of rent, notification by tenants if the premises are left empty (for insurance purposes) may need to be covered in the Agreement, to protect you as the landlord.