On 28 March 2020, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government published non-statutory guidance for Landlords and Tenants on possession proceedings and property issues as a result of, amongst other things, the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The guidance is advisory and aims to help landlords, tenants and mortgagors understand the implications of the Coronavirus Act 2020 and will be updated as necessary. The information regarding the guidance contained in this blog is current as of 17 April 2020 and should not be relied upon as legal advice.
Q. Am I allowed to stop paying my rent during the pandemic?
A. No, the terms of your tenancy agreement continue to apply in full, so you need to pay your rent to the best of your ability. If your ability to pay rent is affected, you should speak to your landlord as soon as possible.
Q. Must my landlord come to an agreement or give me time to pay?
A. Your landlord is not compelled to agree any changes to how much rent you pay and when your rent is paid. However, under the guidance, landlords and tenants are expected to try and reach a temporary agreement which might be that the landlord does not start court proceedings for a period of time or that they accept a lower level of rent or an agreement to pay off the arrears at a later date. Any plans agreed should be stuck to by both parties.
It is anticipated that the Pre-action Protocol for Possession Claims by Social Landlords will be amended to impose obligations on private landlords to work together with tenants to agree on an affordable rent repayment plan.
Q. Is there any additional financial support I can access as a tenant?
A. In addition to claiming benefits, Local Authorities can provide support for tenants experiencing financial hardship and tenants should speak to their local authority.
Q. Can I get any help with mortgage repayments?
A. Mortgage lenders have agreed to offer payment holidays of up to 3 months where this is needed due to Coronavirus-related hardship, including for buy-to-let mortgages. The sums owed under the mortgage are not extinguished and interest will continue to accrue during the payment holiday.
Q. I am in a shared ownership property and pay both a mortgage and rent. What differences does this make?
A. As a shared owner, you will be able to access both the mortgage holiday and enjoy the protections afforded to private renters regarding the length of notices.
Property Licence Arrears
Q. I am occupying a property under a licence, am I protected?
A. The Coronavirus Act 2020 does not apply to licences to occupy other than secure licences under the Housing Act 1985. Although landlords are asked to follow the same practice as for renters, there is no legal obligation on them to do so.
Q. I was provided with accommodation with my job, but I have lost my job. Is my accommodation protected?
A. Where your employment required you to live-in to be able to do the job, e.g. caretakers, hotel staff, etc you are not protected by the Coronavirus Act 2020. The same applies to employees of local authorities who are living in accommodation provided by the local authority and their contract requires them to live in the property for the better performance of their duties. How much notice you are entitled to in either case will be set out in your contract of employment.
Where your job offers self-contained accommodation, but it is not a requirement as part of the job, your tenancy may fall under the Housing Act 1988 and if it does, you will be protected in the same way as ordinary private renters.
Notices Seeking Possession
Q. Can my landlord still serve me a Notice of Seeking Possession?
A. Yes, but until 30 September 2020, your landlord will need to provide a minimum of 3 months’ notice.
Q. If the notice has expired, but a court order has not been made, do I have to move out?
A. No, you cannot be forced to leave your home without a court order and warrant for execution for that order and any breaches will give a tenant a right to bring a civil action.
Q. I had an ongoing possession court case before the national lockdown, will this be going ahead as normal?
A. Following the introduction of the Coronavirus Act 2020, the judiciary has announced that all housing possessions cases in the rented, leasehold and home ownership sectors are suspended for 90 days from 27 March 2020 until 25 June 2020.
Q. Can my landlord start a new court claim for possession after the new period of notice has expired?
A. Yes, they can, although they are strongly advised not to do so without a very good reason.
Disrepair and Property Hazards
Q. I have disrepair or a hazard has developed in my home during the outbreak, what rights do I have to get them fixed?
A. Landlords continue to have an obligation to make sure a home which is being rented is a safe and decent place to live and local authorities, landlords and tenants are expected to work together pragmatically at this time in line with the general government guidance. The current restrictions may prevent routine and obligatory inspections and landlords will not be unfairly penalised where Covid-19 restrictions prevent them from meeting some routine obligations.
Q. Should I grant access to the local authority, my landlord or contractors during the pandemic?
A. Where it is reasonable and safe to do so, yes. Whether it is reasonable is likely to depend on whether the work that needs to be carried out is an urgent health and safety issue, such as a leaking roof, you have no heating or hot water, equipment that a disabled person requires needs repair or there is a security-critical problem. You must also take account of sensible precautions, such as remaining in a separate room during any visit and government guidance on hygiene and cleanliness before, during and after visits.
Q. I am a landlord. Do I still have to provide regular gas and electrical safety inspections?
A. Landlords must still provide tenants with all necessary certifications. Documents can be provided by post or digitally. Landlords must comply with the regulations that come into force on 1 July 2020. The new gas safety regulations and electrical safety regulations account for situations in which a landlord cannot do this by allowing them to demonstrate they have taken all reasonable steps to comply with the law. Attempts to gain access from tenants or to find a contractor should be documented.
Q. I signed an agreement to move into a new rental property or purchased a new home and the move-in date is during the pandemic. Should I be moving?
A. The guidance advises that as far as possible, you should delay moving to a new home while the emergency measures are in place. If moving is unavoidable for contractual reasons and an agreement cannot be reached to delay, you must follow the advice on maintaining strict separation to minimise the spread of the virus.
Q. Someone in my House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) has the virus, is my landlord obliged to remove them or find me another place to stay?
A. Nobody can be removed from their home because of the virus and there is no obligation to provide alternative accommodation for tenants if others are in the property contract coronavirus. You should follow government guidance on what do if you share a home with someone who may have the virus.