The government has issued guidance to landlords and tenants about the general implications of the Coronavirus Act 2020 and the impact of its provisions on tenancies. The following is based on some of the frequently asked questions (FAQs) about that guidance.
The underlying message of the guidance is that during these difficult times, an extra quotient of respect and understanding may help both landlords and their tenants. It urges tenants to have speak up early with their landlords if they experience any difficulties with their tenancies and for the latter to exercise consideration.
Specific attention is drawn to the following provisions of the law:
Is rent still payable?
- tenants are reminded that during the current lockdown they remain fully responsible for paying the rent in accordance with their tenancy agreement;
- even though they have tried their best to meet those commitments, the guidance recognises that some tenants may still have difficulties in paying the rent – and should discuss their difficulties with their landlord as soon as possible;
- for their part, landlords are encouraged to listen to tenants’ difficulties and to offer support and understanding for their plight;
- an agreement might be reached between landlord and tenant, for example, to defer the full payment of rent until a later date – and that both sides stick to any such agreement;
What financial support is available for tenants?
- the guidance reminds tenants that the government has funded local councils with an extra £500 million to assist households experiencing financial difficulties – tenants may wish to approach their local council, therefore, about the possibility of any help that may enable them to stay in their private rented accommodation;
- tenants are also reminded that those on a low income or newly out of work can apply for Universal Credit;
Can landlords still repossess their property?
- landlords are strongly advised not to start proceedings for the eviction of tenants – whether for the non-payment of rent or any other reason – during the difficulties brought about by the lockdown conditions;
- if landlords nevertheless decide to go ahead with an eviction and application for repossession of their property, they are reminded that they must give a tenant a minimum of three months’ notice;
- even at the end of that period of notice, landlords will still need a court order for the eviction of any tenant who has been unable to move;
- no new eviction proceedings will be considered by the courts until the 1st of September – and those proceedings already begun will be suspended until that date;
Must landlords maintain their mortgage repayments?
- the guidance makes clear that landlords are not required to waive their right to receive rent during the lockdown;
- most tenants are expected to be able to continue to pay their rent and, so, landlords may be able to maintain their mortgage repayments;
- where landlords experience difficulties in meeting those mortgage instalments, lenders have agreed to extend payment holidays of up to three months;
- the payment holiday is just that – a deferral of the mortgage payments due, so that they are collected at a later date or the term of the mortgage extended by the relevant period of time;
What about safety inspections and repairs?
- landlords continue to be responsible for the health and safety of their tenants – and are required to arrange the necessary inspections, repairs and maintenance to ensure that those responsibilities are met;
- however, the guidance also recognises that these demands are also balanced against the need to maintain social distancing and the self-isolation of vulnerable tenants;
- some visits – and maintenance work – may need to be delayed until a later date;
- landlords will not be “unfairly penalised” for failing to conduct routine inspections (if arrangements have been made to delay them).
Guidance on the payment of rent, mortgage payment holidays and access to let property for the purpose of repairs and maintenance are central to the relationship between landlord and tenant. The latest government advice is helpful, therefore, and needs to be read in conjunction with general advice about measure taken during the coronavirus crisis.