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Coronavirus Act 2020 – Government guidance for landlords, tenants & local authorities

30th March 2020

Now the Coronavirus Act 2020 is in force, new Government guidance has been published for landlords, tenants and local authorities.

  • Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance for Landlords and Tenants – Read the full guidance here
  • COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and the enforcement of standards in rented properties – Read the full Local Authority guidance here

The guidance is very detailed, with helpful questions and answers. Below, we have listed some of the key points.

Notices seeking possession
The Coronavirus Act 2020 means 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.

Court action on possession cases during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak
From 27 March 2020 housing possession cases have been suspended in the courts – this affects new or existing claims for possession for a 90 day period from 27th March. Government strongly advise landlords not to commence new notices seeking possession during this challenging time without a very good reason to do so.

Payment of rent
Tenants should continue to pay rent and abide by all other terms of their tenancy agreement to the best of their ability. Rent levels agreed in tenancy agreements remain legally due and tenants should discuss with their landlord if they are in difficulty. The government has a strong package of financial support available to tenants, and where they can pay the rent as normal, they should do.

Property access and health and safety obligations
Landlords’ repair obligations have not changed, but tenants and landlords are being encouraged to take a pragmatic, common-sense approach to non-urgent issues which are affected by COVID-19 related restrictions.

Inspectors or maintenance workers can still visit blocks of flats and multi-occupied properties for essential or urgent work such as inspecting and testing fire alarm and emergency lighting systems. Urgent health and safety issues are those which will affect your tenant’s ability to live safely and maintain their mental and physical health in the property. This could include (but is not limited to):

  • If there is a problem with the fabric of the building, for example the roof is leaking
  • If your boiler is broken, leaving your tenant without heating or hot water
  • If there is a plumbing issue, meaning your tenant does not have washing or toilet facilities
  • If the white goods such as fridge or washing machine have broken, meaning the tenant is 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

Gas and electrical safety

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 (S 3.9 in the guidance), and they must demonstrate they have taken all reasonable steps to comply with the law.

Local Authorities – Enforcement and Licensing

Enforcement

Government is encouraging local authorities to take a common-sense, pragmatic approach to enforcement that ensures tenants are kept safe and landlords are supported.

In the short term, this may mean delaying non-urgent action, suspending improvement notices and deferring works in default. Local authorities are being encouraged to contact landlords to emphasise the importance of keeping properties free from serious hazards, whilst reassuring them that a pragmatic, risk-based and common-sense approach will be used when considering any enforcement action.

Existing licensing schemes

Processing of licence applications is likely to be delayed and local authorities are being encouraged to contact landlords to keep them updated. Councils are being asked to take individual landlords’ circumstances into account where licence fee payments are delayed due to COVID19. Where necessary, local authorities should prioritise high-risk licensable properties to protect vulnerable tenants and target imminent risks to health.

Proposed additional and selective licensing schemes

Local authorities are being encouraged to pause the schemes at an appropriate point, in line with government advice on suspending all non-urgent proactive work.

Home moves

Separately, and in line with public health guidance, Government has also published advice on home moves during the COVID-19 outbreak. Where possible, home buyers and renters should delay moving to a new house while measures are in place to fight coronavirus.  https://www.gov.uk/guidance/government-advice-on-home-moving-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak.

Isobel Thomson, Chief Executive, safeagent:

“This detailed COVID-19 guidance is a huge help for us all – tenants, landlords and local authorities. We know what a challenging time this is, which is why it’s important to see protections in law for renters, but also the emphasis on rents being paid, with plenty of support if any tenants are struggling to pay due to Coronavirus.

safeagent had already called for a pause in licensing schemes to free up resources and we’re pleased to see this reflected in the guidance for local authorities. The emphasis must be on enforcement which ensures everyone stays safe and well.”

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