The government's response to the Coronavirus pandemic has imposed restrictions which are relevant for landlords in the private rented sector. However landlords can still access and market their properties and ensure that works are carried out to meet legal obligations and ensure tenant welfare whilst observing social distancing measures.
Eviction notices served between 29th August 2020 and 31st March 2021 must provide at least 6 months notice to a tenant for most grounds and Section 21 notices. Shorter notice periods are an option under Section 8 in cases involving anti-social behaviour, rioting and false statement. We strongly recommend that landlords seek to resolve disputes with their tenants before using eviction proceedings especially when there aren't specific grounds. .
The government will keep these measures under review with decisions guided by the latest public health advice. You can read the government announcement on the gov.uk website.
What restrictions are in place to protect health?
A landlord is entitled to visit their property in response to a health and safety concern as would be visits to the property by their tradesperson to complete essential repairs (provided both parties are well and non-symptomatic). Please take note of the government guidance for people working in, visiting or delivering to other people's homes. Council staff who deal with the enforcement of standards in the private rented sector will still be responding to complaints concerning health and safety risks in the private rented sector and there are no measures to prevent the Council from taking enforcement action in circumstances where there is serious risk to health and safety. We are adapting our working practices to minimise the spread and may rely on photos from tenants in lower-risk cases. We will contact landlords on the basis of these reports but will be understanding in terms of the timescales we are allowing for resolution. We anticipate that by far the majority of cases can be dealt with informally based on common sense agreements
What should I be doing as a landlord in regard to social distancing?
The principal aim of the government's public health measures to combat the virus are to limit the number of contacts between members of the community. Throughout the period of controls being in place you will need to ensure:
- All persons present who are from different households must maintain a distance of 2m between themselves to limit the possibility of transmission. Please refer to the government's guidance on renting during COVID-19.
- You are now able to market and arrange letting of your property whilst ensuring social distancing. This can include physical viewings, cleaning and check in/out procedures. Consider a "lead" tenant who you can do the viewing with to limit the number of persons present. Please read and implement the government's guidance for people working in, visiting or delivering to other people's homes.
- Avoid gatherings of more than two people from separate households (for example do not attend with your tradesperson should a repair be necessary).
- Carry out "Right to Rent" checks by requesting tenants to submit electronic copies of their documents or video call the prospective tenant and ask them to hold the documents up to the camera so you can check them. Record this as an adjusted check due to COVID-19 and record the date. The advice in full on Right to Rent can be found here.
Working safely and Managing My Property
- Follow the decontamination advice if a tenant moves out.
- Send your tenants a copy of this poster concerning home hygiene which covers how to limit spread within the home.
- Avoid pre-planned property inspections unless there is a justifiable health and safety reason to go ahead.
- If you are aware of a repair which needs doing but the tenant is unable to permit access due to self-isolation, ask them to document this in a text or an email. Work should not be carried out in properties where the tenant is self isolating unless there is a serious and direct threat to tenant safety.
- Viewings are now permitted although you should limit the number of people present by suggesting that only one prospective tenant is present during a viewing. Be mindful that the current occupier may not wish to have people enter their home and that is still their right (nobody can enter if the hosuehold is in isolation). Videos can be useful as opposed to physical viewings for advertising purposes. Please read and implement the government's guidance for people working in, visiting or delivering to other people's homes.
How do I meet my legal obligations with respect to Gas Safety?
Please make use of the two month window you have to arrange the safety check as this can provide an important contingency for you in the event of self isolation or shortages of safety engineers. For example if your gas safety certificate runs out on July 1st 2020, you can have a new check carried out any time after May 1st 2020 and be given a certificate which is valid until 1st July 2021. Our advice is to plan as early as possible.
I have a vacant room during lockdown. Should I be worried about legionella?
As a general principle, outlets on hot and cold water systems should be used at least once a week to maintain a degree of water flow and minimise the chances of stagnation. To manage the risks during non-occupancy, consideration should be given to implementing a suitable flushing regime or other measures such as draining the system if it is to remain vacant for long periods. Any hot water cylinders (calorifiers) should be set to ensure water is stored at no lower than 60°C. Before opening up or re-letting your property after lockdown, you must consider the risks presented by Legionella, especially if the water systems have not been proactively run during this period or not drained down, and must take appropriate action to minimise the risk of Legionnaires Disease, for which you may need specialist help and advice. Advice and guidance can be found in the attached document and on the HSE legionella webpage. You may also find this legionella guidance from the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health useful.
What should I do if a tenant passes away in one of my properties?
If the tenant lived alone and assuming you were not the person who discovered that they had passed away (in which case you obviously contact the emergency services) you should get in touch with their next of kin or their emergency contact, or share their contact information with the emergency services who will do this.
If the deceased shared a property you will obviously also need to liaise with the other tenants. If the tenant had shown symptoms of the virus before their death and therefore may have died from it as opposed to other causes, the other tenants will be very concerned about their own health. You should recommend that they self-isolate for the recommended period (14 days) and undertake a deep clean of the property to reassure them.
You will need to liaise with the next of kin for them to have access to collect the deceased belongings. Remember, they have lost a loved one, so be as sensitive as possible. The other tenants should remain in their rooms whilst this is happening.
What Is the Legal Position Regarding the Tenancy
A tenant’s death does not end the tenancy automatically. Instead, the right to end the tenancy will pass on to a number of different people depending on the circumstances and the tenancy type.
If the deceased was on a joint tenancy, the law says the remaining tenants will still hold the tenancy and be expected to pay the rent for the property. As much as possible you should be flexible and, if necessary, arrange a payment plan involving a deferment or reduction of the rent to allow for one tenant not contributing.
Where the deceased was the sole tenant but their spouse or civil partner was also using the property as their main home prior to the death, the law says that they will succeed to the tenancy on the same terms as before. It may be wise to arrange to formalise the relationship with a new tenancy agreement to help support the remaining tenants with benefits claims they may need to make.
If the tenant lived alone on a sole tenancy, where there is a will you should try to establish who the executor of the will is as they will be able to legally terminate the tenancy.
The next of kin or the emergency contact should give you some idea who this will be.
Where the tenant has died intestate (without a will) or without an executor the tenancy will pass to the Public Trustee. You should follow their guidance on ending the tenancy.
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Living in and managing houses in mutiple (HMOs) occupation during the Coronavirus pandemic
We recognise that HMOs present a difficult problem in terms of reducing transmission of the virus and that tenant turnover can be high. However there are practical steps you can take to lower the risks as far as possible during the course of the pandemic. The sections below provide key information to assist HMO managers and landlords.
During tenancy check in and check out procedures, please contact all tenants in advance and ask them to stay away from common parts whilst you undertake the required checks.
It would be good practice to reiterate the key public health measures implemented by the government, mainly that in theperiodofnationallockdown, you cannot meet anyone who is outside of your household in the property (unless certain care and support exemptions apply).
Advise your tenants that this is a stressful period for everyone and they should make efforts to be considerate of all other tenants, particularly those who may be more susceptible to the infection. Provision of soap and hand sanitizer is a sensible step to take.
A letter from the Housing Team manager is included in the downloads and resources section of this page (translated tenant versions are available in Arabic, Kurdish, Romanian, Polish, Albanian & Latvian). This provides advice to both HMO landlords and tenants about keeping safe in shared property. Please feel free to download and distribute.
Use of shared space with others who are not part of your family
Minimise the time you spend in shared spaces such as kitchens, bathrooms and sitting areas as much as possible and keep shared spaces well ventilated.
Aim to keep 2 metres (3 steps) away from people you live with. If you can, use a separate bathroom from others. Make sure you use separate towels from other people, both for drying yourself after bathing and for hand hygiene purposes. Keep your towel in your room.
If you do share a toilet and bathroom, it is important to clean them properly after every time you use them (e.g. wiping surfaces you have come into contact with using soapy water).
If you share a kitchen with others, avoid using it whilst others are in it. Take your meals back to your room to eat if possible. If you have one, use a dishwasher to clean and dry your used crockery and cutlery. If this is not possible, wash them using your usual washing up liquid and warm water and dry them thoroughly, remembering to use a separate tea towel to others and put them straight away. Do not leave things on the side to dry.
We understand that it will be hard for some people to separate themselves from others at home. You should do your very best to follow this guidance and everyone in your household should:
- regularly wash their hands with soap and water
- avoid touching their face
- clean frequently touched surfaces.
If you are an employee and unable to work due to coronavirus, please refer to the guidance from the Department for Work and Pensions to find out about the support that is available to you (available in several languages).
What about household isolation in the event of a tenant becoming symptomatic?
Make clear to your tenants that they should inform you as soon as a possible if they become symptomatic. Should you receive notification that one of your tenants is displaying symptoms of the virus, you should contact all tenants at the property and reinforce the household isolation requirements. Advice on how to get a test can be found via the NHS track and trace website
The general advice contained within the section above concerning property management applies equally to HMOs.
I rent out a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) and one of the tenants has the virus. Am I obliged to remove them or find my tenants another place to stay?
Can I admit or replace new tenants into my property where existing tenants will be continuing to reside?
The movement restrictions do not prevent people moving home. The government has issued guidance on how to minimise the risks of spreading the coronavirus when doing so.
There may be additional risks involved in moving into a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) at this time which is why it is important that all involved take reasonable precautions. During viewings, tenants that share a HMO are advised to stay out of indoor common areas, such as kitchens, bathrooms or sittings areas. If it is not a tenant’s own private room that is being viewed they can also remain inside this room with the doors closed. HMO landlords always retain responsibility for the cleaning of common areas and are reminded to take particular care with respect to the conduct of visitors during viewings and any cleaning that may be required before, during or after. Tenant safety should be landlords’ and letting agents’ first priority in this or any other move.
Managing rent arrears and possession proceedings
What are the new rules regarding possession proceedings and evictions?
New civil procedure rules during the Covid-19 Crisis
- Landlords will need to confirm their intention to carry on with a possession case by completing a re-activation notice and sending it to both the Court and the tenant(s), if the notice was served prior to August 3rd 2020.
- Account will need to be made of any changes to the tenant's circumstances as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic (particularly in relation to increased vulnerability or changes to social security status) . This will apply to existing and new claims as well as accelerated possession claims. Changes will be in force until March 2021.
- Re-activation notices are not required where you already have a possession order. Landlords in this situation can move to executing the warrant by using a bailiff service
- Courts will have greater flexibility in setting the hearing date which was previously set at the same time as a claim form being issued. They will now be able to set the date following the production of the claim form. There will no longer be a requirement for the Court to set a date within 8 weeks of the claim form being issued.
- Evidence of rent arrears will now be needed in advance of the hearing. Tenants can request the Courts extend the possession date if they have suffered extreme hardship as a result of the pandemic; you will be alerted to this in the tenant's defence statement.
- High court bailiffs will need to provide notice to the tenant of the eviction date in the same way that county court bailiffs issue notice. The notice shall include details of how the tenant can apply to suspend the eviction and where to go for help.
- The Government is strongly advising landlords not to pursue eviction in non-priority cases. It considers priority cases to be those involving anti-social behaviour, extreme rent arrears, domestic abuse, cases involving squatters, fraud or unlawful subletting.
- Landlords are being actively encouraged to pursue mediation where possible to avoid eviction proceedings
Where tenants do experience financial difficulties as a result of the pandemic, we encourage landlords and tenants to work together and exhaust all possible options – such as flexible payment plans which take into account a tenant’s individual circumstances – to ensure cases only end up in court as an absolute last resort.
You will need to offer your tenant a rent holiday if you have been granted a mortgage payment holiday. Click here for the Government's advice concerning rent and mortgage holidays.
Issues with paying rent, council tax, energy bills etc. What can I do?
Please visit the coronavirus financial advice page which brings together the financial advice available for people living in Doncaster. It will be updated as more information becomes available.
Tenants withholding rent - does the pandemic affect liabilities?
No - there is no universal rent holiday during this emergency period. Tenants should continue to pay rent and abide by all other terms of their tenancy agreement to the best of their ability. The government has a strong package of financial support available to tenants, and where they can pay the rent as normal, they should do. Tenants who are unable to do so should speak to their landlord at the earliest opportunity. As mentioned above notice periods for possession have changed and legal proceedings have been stayed by the Coronavirus Act and associated regulations. Our advice is to negotiate as early as possible in situations where a tenant is having difficulty paying rent and be prepared to accept payment plans or a period of rent at a lower value. Make use of the mortgage holiday periods if you are able.
For information regarding the new possession rules during the crisis please visit the page: Managing a tenancy, tenancy deposits and eviction
The pandemic has affected my ability to pay rent / I am not receiving rent - what should I do?
Employers have been encouraged by the government to retain employees and have offered to pay 80% of wages up to £2500 under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. Self employed tenants can claim a one-off lump sum of up to 80% of their profits (three-year average) or £2500 per month (whichever is the lesser). Click here for the Government's advice concerning financial assistance
St Leger Homes tenants should speak to their local rents officer in their area office if struggling with rent payments – and then they can refer on to our Tenancy Sustainability Team as necessary for further support. Find out more on the St Leger Homes website.
Local Authorities will have access to a £500m grant to cover cases where ratepayers are unable to pay their Council Tax.
Help is available for tenant's who are struggling with pre-payment meters due to self-isolation.
For information regarding the new possession rules during the pandemic please visit the page: Managing a tenancy, tenancy deposits and eviction
Students and rent
It would be sensible to be flexible in response to requests from students if their learning is now entirely based on virtual methods if you are able to be. However, contracts are still binding and you are under no legal obligation to act unless the tenant has been directly financially impacted by the Coronavirus. If they have been directly affected, you should agree to defer payment. The Student Loans Company has advised that they will continue to pay loans during the course of the pandemic.
I have a problem with anti-social behaviour in my property. Given the recent changes to possession proceedings, what other steps can I take to address the problem?
- Civil Injunctions which are available to the police, local council and other local agencies on application to the courts and can impose restrictions or positive requirements on individuals who have engaged or threatened to engage in antisocial behaviour in order to prevent them from engaging in this behaviour;
- Community Protection Notices which can be used by the police or the local authority to deal with ongoing problems or nuisances which are having a persistent or continuing and detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality;
- A Closure Power which the police and local authorities can use to close premises of which use has resulted in, or is likely soon to result in, nuisance and disorder and;
- Criminal Behaviour Orders which can be issued by a court and impose restrictions or positive requirements on an individual convicted of a previous criminal offence, who has engaged in behaviour that has caused, or was likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress.
Social distancing measures are an essential tool in the fight against the virus. You can report people and businesses who are breaching the measures by clicking the box below:
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- HMO COVID19 Letter to Landlords Feb 2021-1
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- HMO COVID19 Letter to residents of shared houses Feb 2021-1
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- Self-isolation poster for patients
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- Tenant polish
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- Tenant Romanian
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- Tenant Albanian
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- Tenant Arabic
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- Tenant kurdish
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- Tenant Latvian
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- hygiene in the home
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