On 30 March 2020, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) published guidance for landlords and tenants taking into consideration the provisions of the Coronavirus Act and the stance currently taken by the court in respect of possession proceedings.
It is proposed that this guidance will be frequently updated.
There are a number of questions that are dealt with in the guidance. A summary of these is set out below.
Should tenants continue to pay rent?
In many cases, the Covid-19 outbreak should not affect a tenant’s ability to pay rent. If it does, it is important that tenants have an early conversation with their landlord. Rent is still due as per the terms of the tenancy agreement. Options include agreeing a temporary lower rent with the arrears payable at a later date or a temporary agreement not to seek a possession order.
Notices served by landlords seeking possession of properties have now been extended to 3 months. From 27 March, any claims in the court system or about to go into the court system will be affected by a 90 day suspension of possession hearings and orders.
At the expiry of any notice served, a landlord cannot evict a tenant without a possession order. The advice from the Lord Chief Justice is that landlords are strongly advised not to commence or continue eviction proceedings without a very good reason for doing so.
The suspension on housing possession cases applies to all tenants and licensees who benefit from the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. The suspension also applies to mortgage repossession cases.
How should landlords be dealing with their repairing obligations?
Their obligations have not changed. However planned inspections and routine works may be more difficult to undertake currently. Tenants should be encouraged to notify their landlords at an early stage in respect of any item of disrepair. Landlords and tenants need to take a pragmatic approach to repairs and specifically non-urgent issues.
If there is an urgent repair issue, then landlords must ensure that these are dealt with. Both landlords and any contractors that they choose to use to carry out urgent repairs must ensure that they follow government guidance in respect of Covid-19, including but not limited to social distancing and personal protective equipment.
What about gas safety certificates?
There is a legal requirement to ensure that gas safety certificates are updated every 12 months. If landlords are unable to gain access to the property due to Covid-19 restrictions or are not able to task a contractor to carry out the inspection, they should clearly document the attempts to inspect and all correspondence between them and the tenant.
The guidance can be found at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/876500/Consolidated_Landlord_and_Tenant_Guidance_COVID_and_the_PRS_v4.2.pdf
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