Due  to the coronavirus outbreak the government has brought about a series of new laws for both landlords, homeowners and renters. We’ve summarised some of the key changes below.

You can also read the full government guidance here.

Housing Possessions – Evicting Tenants

  • Housing possession cases in the courts have been suspended. – this affects new or existing claims for possession for a 90 day period from 27th March.
  • 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. 
  • This action is in line with public health advice, which has advised against nonessential movement in response to coronavirus. 
  • 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. 
  • From 27th March, any possession claims in the system or about to go into the system will be affected by a 90 day suspension of possession hearings and orders.
  • 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. 

Paying rent

  • 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 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.  Rent levels agreed in your tenancy agreement remain legally due and you should discuss with your landlord if you are in difficulty.
  • If a landlord and tenant agree to 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 the £500m of new funding that has been made available.
  • You can also find more information on Government support for employees here
  • If you are worried about being evicted and not having anywhere else to go, you should speak to your local authority
  • If you fall into financial difficulties due to a change in your employment or earnings, for example, you may qualify for Universal Credit. Property Guardian licence agreements are a valid tenancy arrangement for receiving housing costs support in Universal Credit. Find more information about Universal Credit at https://www.gov.uk/how-to-claim-universal-credit.

Landlords

  • Regardless of this legislation, where tenants have difficulty paying rent over this period, the government 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.

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. 

Extending the current ‘pre-action protocol’ on possession proceedings to private landlords

  • The government is working with the Master of the Rolls to widen the existing ‘preaction protocol’ on possession proceedings for Social Landlords, to include private renters and to strengthen its remit. 
  • This will ensure that private sector landlords reach out to tenants to understand the financial position they are in before taking possession action through the courts once the 3-month delay on issuing eviction proceedings has ended. 
  • It will encourage landlords and tenants to work together to agree an affordable rent repayment plan if their tenants fall into rent arrears. 

What about my legal obligations to provide regular gas and electrical safety inspections? 

  • 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. 
  • You can read the latest guidance for landlords and Gas Safe engineers and inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive 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, the government recommends you document your attempts to do so and all correspondence with your tenants. 

EPC Guidance

  • Where possible delay the property transaction, and ultimately the EPC assessment until the stay-at-home measures to fight coronavirus are no longer in place.
  • If it is not possible to delay the transaction and assessment, and a valid EPC is not available from the EPC Register, an assessment may need to be carried out.
  • Where an EPC assessment needs to be carried out, the UK Government’s social distancing measures and guidance for carrying out work in people’s homes must be adhered to.
  • EPC assessments can continue where a property is empty.

Governments full (COVID-19) Energy Performance Certificates Guidance


Property access and health and safety 

What does coronavirus 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. 

During unprecedented times, the government encourage tenants and landlords to take a pragmatic, common-sense approach to non-urgent issues which are affected by COVID-19 related restrictions. 

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, the government recommend that tenants 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 here


Mortgage Payments

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.
  • Consumer credit scores will be not be impacted by taking payment holidays on mortgages and other forms of borrowing during the coronavirus outbreak, three major agencies have said. Experian, Equifax and TransUnion have agreed to an ‘emergency payment freeze’, which will protect those who take a break from repayments. It means any breaks or credit arrangements agreed with lenders as a result of the coronavirus will not be recorded on credit reports or scores.
  • Where a tenant is unable to pay their rent in full the landlord – if a mortgagor – should discuss this with their lender.

Shared Ownership Owners

  • Most shared owners will pay both rent and a mortgage. Like other mortgage holders, shared owners who are struggling to meet their mortgage payments as a result of Covid-19 will be able to request a mortgage payment holiday from their lender. Most shared owners will also be covered by the new Coronavirus Act 2020, meaning their landlords will not be able to start possession proceedings unless they have given shared owners three-month’s notice. 
  • Shared owners should continue to meet their financial commitments where possible. The government has introduced a strong package of financial support, so where they can, shared owners should still pay the rent to their landlord and mortgage to their lender as normal. Shared owners who are unable to do so should speak to their landlord and mortgage provider at the earliest opportunity. 

Prospective buyers/sellers

  • New guidelines from the Ministry for Housing, Community and Local Government state: “Home buyers and renters should, where possible, delay moving to a new house while measures are in place to fight coronavirus (COVID-19).”
  • The guidance stresses this is particularly important in cases where the property that people intend to move into is currently occupied.

Viewings

  • If your property is already on the market, you can continue to advertise it as being for sale but you should not allow people in to view your property.
  • There should not be any visitors into your home, and you should therefore not let people visit your property for viewings. Your agent may be able to conduct virtual viewings and you could speak to them about this possibility.

Accepting offers

  • The buying and selling process can continue during this period but you should be aware that the process is likely to take longer than normal
  • You are free to continue to accept offers on your property, however the selling process may take longer
  • Advice for people to stay at home and away from others means you should not invite visitors into your home, including prospective buyers or advisors.

Exchanging contracts

Once you have exchanged contracts, you have entered into a legal agreement to purchase that home.

  • If the property you are purchasing is unoccupied you can continue with the transaction.
  • If the property you are purchasing is currently occupied, the government recommend that all parties should work to either delay the exchange of contracts until after the period where stay-at-home measures to fight coronavirus (COVID-19) are in place, or include explicit contractual provisions to take account of the risks presented by the virus.

Mortgage offers/deposits

  • 1,500+ mortgages have been pulled from sales since the coronavirus epidemic.
  • Nationwide and Santander have blocked loans to buyers with deposits  less that 75% of a property’s value, while NatWest and Halifax will now only lend up to 80% to new customers.

*This article is for general awareness only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this page was first published.

Need a mortgage advisor? Complete this form to get a free initial consultation with our impartial mortgage brokers Arne Grey

Need a conveyancer? – Complete this form to get a quote from our carefully selected Conveyancing partner Mullis & Peake.