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Coronavirus - Your Landlord & Tenant Questions Answered

Coronavirus - Your Landlord & Tenant Questions Answered

We are now over a week into the official coronavirus pandemic and the pressure on managing agents is increasing exponentially from all quarters.

Last updated: 20/03/2020

Despite the pronouncements by Boris in recent days, there is still no clear guidance on the practical help that tenants can expect over the coming months to pay their rent, whilst how letting agents and landlords are expected to deal with the consequences of any “rent holiday” is, at this stage, pure speculation.

A request for guidance on a whole range of issues affecting the lettings industry has so far not drawn any response from the Ministry of Housing – hardly surprising given the pressure on all parts of government at the present time.

So, what can agents do to maintain a semblance of normality in what are clearly extraordinary times? 

Here are a few thoughts which we have shared with a growing number of clients over the last 7 days:

What do I do if a tenant refuses access for a gas safety inspection?

There are, of course, a few practical things we can suggest. 

Ask the tenant if they would be happy for a gas engineer to visit the property if the contractor was suitably protected – face mask, gloves, etc.  Point out that it is for the tenant’s own safety that these checks need to be undertaken at least once a year.

If a tenant persists on refusing access, we are suggesting that you drop a line to the local environmental health officer. Inform them of the dilemma which is facing you and your landlord and ask for the local authority’s guidance. 

Personally, I do not expect that any response will be forthcoming but at least it puts down a marker that you and your landlord have tried to gain access.  I think it is inconceivable that having been warned, a local authority will start enforcement action now or even once the crisis has passed.  However, tenants who are refusing access must be contacted as soon as the politicians tell us that the crisis has ended.

I need to serve a Section 21 notice but I do not have a current gas safety certificate. What do I do?

The Deregulation Act 2015 sets out a list of documents we have to serve to enable any Section 21 notice to be validly served.  If you lack a current gas safety certificate, then there is a problem.

It would be sensible at this time to look ahead and anticipate those properties where you are likely to need a gas safety certificate within the next 3 months.  Necessarily, landlords should consider whether they serve a Section 21 notice now before the current gas safety certificate expires.  However, do not forget that there are restrictions on when you can serve a Section 21 notice.  Remember though, that whilst most of us assume that such notices should be of 2 months duration, they can be longer.

The government says that we cannot serve notices or start new possession proceedings. What can I do?

A pronouncement by our Prime Minister and the appropriate legislation being in place, are two quite different things.

The Coronavirus Bill 2020 was introduced to the House of Commons on Thursday of this week.  Whilst it gives ministers the ability to make changes to the way in which the court system operates throughout the country, as yet there is no legislation to change the effectiveness of either a Section 8 or a Section 21 notice.  Indeed, at the moment there are no specific regulations preventing a landlord issuing possession proceedings or enforcing an existing court order.

What do I do about court hearings?

Again, the emergency legislation introduced to Parliament does not limit or cancel existing court proceedings at this time.  However, courts are being encouraged to conduct more court hearings by telephone than ever before.  This is bound to be a trend that will increase over the coming weeks until such time that the courts themselves are actually suspended.

Where do we stand with evictions?

There is no specific legislation preventing the enforcement of a current possession order and, if needs be, the eviction of a defaulting tenant.

However, on Monday (16th March), bailiffs in Portsmouth unilaterally decided that for health and safety reasons, they would not be entering a property where there was the remotest suspicion that an occupant might have the Coronavirus.  This decision has now been replicated, more or less, across the country.  It seems to have the backing of the Ministry of Justice, more I suspect, on the grounds of health and safety than a desire to ignore an existing court order. 

For the moment, we have not heard of a similar moratorium where possession cases have been transferred to the High Court for enforcement and where, of course, a landlord has the ability to instruct a “private” bailiff, a High Court Enforcement Officer.

Need further advice?

Things are changing literally hour by hour but our dedicated Landlord & Tenant team are working hard to continue their support with no disruptions to service, passing on the latest guidance available. 

If you're an ARLA member, please call us on 0330 124 1212 and have your ARLA membership number and security question ready.

If you're not an ARLA member and need legal support relating to a landlord or tenant issue, please call us on 02380 221344 or email contact@duttongregory.co.uk