Lockdown relief for landlords

The housing industry has re-opened for business following a seven-week shutdown – but what does the new government guidance mean for landlords?

Viewings

This is a relatively straightforward process if the property being viewed is empty. Landlords can use social distancing as a risk mitigation strategy – for example, by allowing the viewer to move around the property unaccompanied ­– and implement a no-touch policy. Ensuring all the internal doors are open will help with this.

However, there is a lot more risk when viewing a currently occupied property, even if the occupiers are not present at the viewing. The landlord will also need to consider that many occupiers will probably be more resistant to strangers wandering around their home bringing in a potential virus, along with a potential security risk if they also have more freedom to roam unaccompanied. Our advice would be to consider delaying physical viewings on occupied properties until there is further relaxation of the lockdown restrictions.

Talk to your agent about whether they can help by providing a virtual viewing whilst the property is still occupied.

Moving in

The moving in process should be relatively simple if a social-distancing protocol is adhered to. Where possible, it also makes sense to use electronic options for providing and signing documents such as the tenancy agreement, gas safety, EPC and deposit compliance before arriving at the property for the move in.

The landlord would be well advised to undertake checks in relation to keys and smoke/carbon alarms before the tenant arrives, and also make sure surfaces and door handles are wiped clean before leaving the keys in the doors so the tenants can let themselves in, whilst the landlord waits a distance away.

Inspections

Many proactive landlords will visit their properties regularly to make sure it is being well looked after by the tenant. The crucial question is whether or not such visits are required in the current climate.

This will vary from landlord to landlord but in most cases where a tenant has been in situ for longer than six months, the landlord is likely to be be aware of how a tenant cares for a property. Therefore, it will be logical to delay conducting inspections for the time being.

Repairs

The guidance on repairs has not changed from those provided during the more restrictive lockdown period. To reiterate, the guidance suggests that only urgent repairs are undertaken and minor repairs are delayed until the infection rate has subsided. From the landlord’s perspective, this does introduce elements of ambiguity because the interpretation of what is urgent and minor will vary significantly from tenant to tenant.  Therefore it is important to make sure there is a clear evidence trail of what has been reported by the tenant and the reason as to why a landlord feels that such a repair is deemed non-urgent.

In respect of urgent repairs, the government has introduced clear guidance on how contractors should act in relation to social distancing, where they need to work in pairs, how surfaces should be cleaned and how to dispose of rubbish. It is important that the landlord confirms that such guidance has been understood by the contractor before they arrive at the property and obtains written confirmation to that effect.

Moving out

In the majority of cases, there is no reason for anyone to be present at a checkout, so these can proceed with the minimum of fuss. The tenant can usually leave the property keys inside the property on vacating, on the assumption the landlord has a spare set. The check-out inventory can then be done a few days later as this will allow for any potential virus in the property to die out. If there are deductions to be made, then the landlord should still seek to obtain invoices or estimates for the work required as soon as possible to ensure they follow the relevant deposit scheme rules.

Summary

In this transitional period, it is important for landlords to understand they have legal health and safety obligations to all those they come into contact with. Therefore they must undertake a risk assessment of all the procedures they conduct to make sure they mitigate any Covid-19 risk, considering the advice throughout this blog post.

For advice on managing your property safely during this period, contact the property experts at Foxes. Email lettings@foxes.co.uk or call 01202 299600

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