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Coronavirus and the impact on landlords and tenants - Q&A with housing director Manjinder Kaur Atwal (20 March 2020)

Date: 20/03/2020
Duncan Lewis, Housing Solicitors, Coronavirus and the impact on landlords and tenants - Q&A with housing director Manjinder Kaur Atwal

The outbreak of the coronavirus has led to a number of unprecedented societal changes in the United Kingdom. In particular landlords and their tenants are facing various challenges and uncertainties as the government’s policies and legislation change and develop on an almost daily basis.

Housing law director at our Harrow office, Manjinder Kaur Atwal answers some of the most pressing questions asked by both landlords and tenants, offering her expert advice and legal insight.

Tenants ask:

I’ve had to self-isolate and am only being paid statutory sick-pay, I’m worried I won’t be able to afford rent – will my landlord evict me?

No. The Government has announced a radical package of measures to protect renters and landlords affected by coronavirus. Emergency legislation is to suspend new evictions from social or private rented accommodation while this national emergency is taking place. No new possession proceedings through applications to the court are to start during the crisis for the next three months at least. As a result of these measures, no renters in private or social accommodation need to be concerned about the threat of eviction.

Landlords will also be protected as three month mortgage payment holiday is extended to Buy to Let mortgages.

My private landlord has wavered my rent this month, but can he charge me any extra/interest next month?

The Government is to introduce a new pre-action protocol for possession claims, to apply after the three months (subject to change) which will apply to private as well as social tenancies to strengthen its remit and to “support the necessary engagement between landlords and tenants to resolve disputes and landlords will have to reach out to tenants to understand the financial position they are in.” The Government will also issue guidance which asks landlords to show compassion and to allow tenants who are affected by this to remain in their homes wherever possible.

At the end of this period, landlords and tenants will be expected to work together to establish an affordable repayment plan, taking into account tenants’ individual circumstances.

There is disrepair in my rented accommodation and repairs are being delayed due to coronavirus restrictions – can I claim compensation?

Unfortunately we do not know whether compensation for the delay can be claimed at this stage. This will be on a case by case basis. It would essentially depend on the reason for the delay and other factors.

I live in a HMO and my housemates are showing signs of symptoms – can my landlord force us to all self-isolate?

The landlord cannot force you to self-isolate. We would strongly suggest you follow the NHS and Government guidance on the matter.

I am concerned about meeting my rent payments, I have never needed financial assistance before, what options do I have?

If you cannot come to an agreement with your landlord then it is a good idea to pay what you can afford and keep a record of what you offered.

If you have to take time off work and are not paid, or receive sick pay that is less than your usual wages, you might be entitled to claim benefits, or your existing benefits might increase. Seek advice if you currently receive housing or tax credits. If you are employed and you are considered unfit for work following the NHS guidance then you will qualify for statutory sick pay (SSP) if you usually get it when you are off work sick.

However, if you are self-employed then you will not get SSP. If you have paid national insurance contributions regularly for the last couple of years you could qualify for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

My landlord is asking for next month’s rent in advance – is this fair?

No. Please refer your landlord to the Government’s emergency legislation.

Landlords ask:

If I take a mortgage ‘holiday’ can I still charge my tenants rent?

The mortgage payment holiday announced by the Government is for landlords whose tenants are experiencing financial difficulties due to coronavirus. This will alleviate the pressure on landlords, who will be concerned about meeting mortgage payments themselves, and will mean no unnecessary pressure is put on their tenants as a result.

I need to fix something for my tenants in the property but can’t get a workman to visit any time soon, I’m concerned my tenants will sue for disrepair.

Before any contractors are instructed to attend a property you should follow the NHS guidance. Speak to your tenant and ensure that you keep a record of all communication with them. If it is an emergency then special care should be taken before any work is carried out.

My tenants want a deep clean of the property – should I provide this for free or charge them?

As a landlord you need to ensure that the property is fit for human habitation. You should perhaps also refer to your tenancy agreement for landlord and tenancy obligations. However, as the coronavirus is an outbreak that we have not experienced before, you may wish to provide a deep clean of the property for free or agree with the tenant to split the costs.

My tenant is self-isolating, but we were due to complete a Gas Safety inspection and/or repairs to the property – what can I do?

Please follow the NHS guidance. You may want to postpone the inspection/repairs but you should keep records of all communications.

My tenant wants to end the tenancy early because their circumstances have changed due to the outbreak. How should I respond?

At the time of writing, we are not aware of any legislation that allows tenants to terminate their tenancy early due to the outbreak. You and your tenant should refer to the clauses of the tenancy agreement before ending the agreement. However, both parties can agree to an early termination.

I am already half-way through eviction proceedings with a disruptive tenant, will I still be able to continue the process?

Unfortunately, at the time of writing we are not sure whether the government’s emergency legislation will extend to existing possession claims. If you have already issues a possession claim then you should continue to comply with any court orders.

The government’s policies are changing on daily basis as the country continues to adapt to life under emergency conditions and it can be difficult to keep up with the surge of information received.

For expert and up-to-date legal advice and assistance on all housing matters affecting landlords and tenants, contact , Manjinder Kaur Atwal on 020 3114 1269, or at manjindera@duncanlewis.com

Duncan Lewis Housing Solicitors

Duncan Lewis Housing Solicitors can guide clients in any matter or issues arising with local housing authorities, housing applications, tenants, landlords, ownership and repairs.

With a niche expertise in Possession and Unlawful Eviction cases the Department holds a significant presence in County Court Possession Duty Schemes throughout London including the Central London County Court.

Our housing department also offers representation in all proceedings including reviews, appeals and judicial review proceedings relating to homelessness, disrepair, succession for tenants and neighbourhood disputes against local authorities.

If you have any housing related queries or require representation please do not hesitate to contact our team of expert solicitors on 033 3772 0409.

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