In the current unprecedented situation, the position is ever-evolving as the government and financial institutions work to try and protect those most at risk.
Since the very start of the outbreak when the concepts of self-isolation and staying at home were first raised, there has been concern for private tenants who are often some of the most vulnerable members of society.
Most landlords do not want to remove people from their homes. However, there was a concern, particularly in the private sector, that landlords would face financial hardship if tenants couldn’t afford to pay rent but mortgage payments were still due.
The government has addressed these concerns and extended the right to seek a mortgage payment holiday to buy to let mortgages as well.
So what about tenants? Landlord’s take note as well
The government has confirmed that any existing possession proceedings have been put on hold for 90 days from 27 March 2020 and there is a bar on issuing any new claims during that period. The position is under constant review and the dates may well be extended depending on how the situation develops.
Any new notice seeking possession before 20 September 2020 has to be for a minimum period of three months.
The government’s position is that no one should face eviction as a result of being unable to pay their rent due to the impact of coronavirus.
Does this mean rent won’t be payable?
No, tenants will need to continue paying rent. However, the government has encouraged residential landlords to show compassion and consider rent payment holidays for the relevant period.
Once the ban on eviction is lifted the government expects Landlords to again show compassion and to agree to reasonable repayment plans based on the tenant’s financial circumstances. Formal guidance is yet to be issued but we fully expect the Courts to be keen to show they are considering such guidance when making orders.
Existing (ie pre coronavirus) claims
Whilst these are on hold for 90 days from 27 March 2020, the Court Service has confirmed that priority in the listing will be given to housing matters (including possession claims) as soon as the temporary restrictions have been listed.
The courts have been told to prioritise applications to stay any existing warrants for possession (ie bailiff action). In practical terms, we had already seen a number of our bailiff appointments being cancelled to protect the health and safety of the enforcement officers.
What about repairs etc?
Landlords’ obligations for repair and maintenance remain unchanged. Bearing in mind current safety guidance on social distancing, landlords are unlikely to be making regular checks of properties so tenants should ensure they let their landlord know as soon as there is a problem.
All parties, landlord’s tenant’s contractors etc. should observe government guidance on safe working practices. However, unless someone is self-isolating, the current crisis does not prevent work being done, so landlords cannot refuse to attend to repairs and tenants should not refuse to let workmen in.
A landlord refusing to make urgent repairs will be in breach of their obligations under a tenancy agreement. Tenant’s refusing access will also be in breach.
Also, if the worst does happen and the tenant comes down with the coronavirus, they may be glad of that working boiler, toilet etc!
Top Tips for Landlords
- Speak to your tenant’s to see how they are doing. If they are struggling to pay the rent consider whether you can reach an agreement to ease to position whether that is a complete rent holiday or a reduced amount temporarily.
- Assuming you have a mortgage, consider arranging a payment holiday if you need to.
- Make sure repairs are attended to in a sensible manner complying with all available guidance on minimising risks.
- Be fair. It is generally expected anyway but the guidance being issued by the government will effectively make it mandatory.
Top Tips for Tenants
- Speak to your landlord’s and explain your position as soon as possible if you are struggling to pay rent.
- Consider whether you can offer to make a lower rent payment if you can’t just pay the full amount.
- Ensure you notify landlords of any problems with your property and, following the most up to date guidance on staying safe, allow repairs to be undertaken.
- Be sensible. We have heard anecdotally of tenants who have their rent covered by housing benefits either stating that they won’t be paying their rent or asking for a rent holiday. Whilst landlords are being asked to be compassionate towards tenants, the Court will expect it to be reciprocal and Judges are likely to take a dim view of anyone trying to play the system.
Posted on April 9, 2020