In just a few short weeks, the coronavirus outbreak has turned the whole world upside down, impacting virtually every aspect of our lives. As a landlord or agent, you’ll no doubt have lots of questions about how the pandemic is going to impact your income, and changes you may need to make to protect yourself and your tenants. Below, we’ve rounded up some top tips…
The government announced on March 18 that landlords with a buy-to-let mortgage can take advantage of a three-month mortgage payment holiday to help them cope with the financial pressures of the COVID-19 crisis. If you’re up to date with your mortgage and can prove that your tenant has been affected by the virus and cannot work (for example, being off sick or losing their job), you can have your mortgage payments deferred, but you’ll still need to pay it back at some point with interest, so be cautious before applying, and if you do, pass that holiday onto your tenants and come up with a reasonable payment plan to repay their debt.
Unless your tenants cannot work and have agreed with you that they can take advantage of a payment holiday, they must continue to pay their rent and follow the terms of your tenancy agreement. We recommend contacting your tenants and letting them know that you’re there to help them; if they run into financial problems and are worried they cannot pay their rent, they should speak to you at the earliest opportunity to ensure that you’re on the same page.
In an attempt to protect tenants from losing their homes during the crisis, the government has announced a three-month ban on eviction proceedings. Tenants both in the private and social rented sectors must give their renters at least three months’ notice before terminating their rental agreement but note that this eviction ban may be extended beyond three months.
The government has advised against all but essential house moves during the coronavirus lockdown, warning homeowners and renters to “as far as possible, delay moving to a new house while emergency measures are in place to fight Coronavirus.” Tenants who signed an agreement before the lockdown can still move into your rental property as this falls under the “contractual reasons” clause, but they must maintain strict separation to minimise the spread of the virus. Communicate these recommendations with your tenants to ensure they’re safe.
If you’ve got maintenance work or an inspection scheduled for your rental property, speak to your contractor as soon as possible to see whether they’re still working. The government has made it clear that landlords’ obligations remain the same during the crisis, and that tenants have a right to a warm and safe place to live. General property inspections should not be performed, but any essential maintenance relating to gas, electricity, or the structure of the property should still be carried out, and social distancing should be exercised at all times.
If you’ve got a property waiting to be filled, we’ve got some bad news: physical property viewings should not be carried out during the coronavirus lockdown. If your rental property is already being advertised, consider recording a video tour and sharing it with interested parties. Though this arrangement isn’t perfect, it allows tenants to see a property before they make a decision on renting. As all non-essential house moves are prohibited at this time, we recommend holding off until you can perform physical property viewings once more; not only is it important for tenants, but it allows you to suss them out before you hand over the keys.
The government has announced temporary changes to Right to Rent checks. Landlords can now ask tenants to submit a scanned copy of their original documents and then arrange a video call with tenants, asking them to hold up documents to check against the digital copy. You can then record the date you checked the documents and mark it as a COVID-19 check.
The rules on renting haven’t changed: you must still perform a check and you’ll be breaking the law if you lease your property to a person who is not lawfully allowed to live in the UK.
The government has confirmed that Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) must still be issued and updated during the COVID-19 pandemic. The same 28-day grace period applies when advertising a property, but you must be able to show that you made a good attempt to obtain an EPC during this time. Perform checks when the property is empty where possible, and do not perform an assessment in a household where a person is showing COVID-19 symptoms. In other words, use your best judgement and keep records of your attempts to perform an EPC assessment if you haven’t been able to do so due to the circumstances.