Each day our news feed is filled with updates and reports regarding the spread of the coronavirus. Guidance from the UK Government is to stay at home for 7 days if you have a high temperature and a new continuous cough.
What can landlords and letting agents do if tenants are self-isolating?
The key here is to ensure you open effective lines of communication. Landlords and agents should ccommunicate with tenants to let them know what they can expect from their landlords/letting agents during this time. If physical contact is not possible, notify tenants of this and of alternative methods of communication.
A bulletin or newsletter could be sent informing tenants of your plans in the event your tenants require to self-isolate.
What about gas safety and repairs?
The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 impose a duty on landlords to ensure that appliances and flues are checked for safety at intervals of no more than 12 months. If tenants are self-isolating, this could could affect landlords' ability to comply with this requirement.
Landlords and letting agents could take advantage of the MOT style system introduced in 2018. Landlords/letting agents can now carry out their annual gas safety check between 10 and 12 months from the date of the last check. If the gas safety check is due in the next 2 months, arrange it now while preserving your later date.
While breach of the regulations is a criminal offence, it is a defence if landlords and agents can show that they “took all reasonable steps to prevent” the breach. This means even if a regulation is breached i.e. an appliance is not inspected within 12 months of the last inspection, the landlords/agent could escape liability by demonstrating that “all reasonable steps” were taken to prevent the contravention.
Accordingly, landlords and letting agents should ensure they maintain adequate records of the communications had and the steps taken to prevent the breach. An inspection should be arranged once the period of self-isolation is over.
In terms of other repairs, the repairing standard requires completion of the repair within a reasonable time of the landlord being notified by the tenant, or otherwise becoming aware, that the work is required. If the tenant is self-isolating, record this, confirm in writing and arrange for the repair once the period of self-isolation is over. In emergency circumstances, all reasonable attempt should be undertaken to complete the repair or to at the very least make safe pending the isolation period.
Landlords and letting agents may be concerned with possible financial implications in the event tenants are self-isolating and unable to pay their rent as a result. The Scottish Housing minister, Kevin Stewart, has said: “No landlord should evict a tenant because they have suffered financial hardship due to coronavirus and we are actively considering how best this can be addressed”.
We recommend effective dialogue with tenants at this time including the provision of clear information about the tenancy agreement and the unpaid rent; sources of help and advice on eligibility for housing benefit and other types of financial assistance.
We are in unprecedented times. We recommend that you review Government guidance regularly and adapt internal policies and procedures in order to deal with the ever changing environment.
For more information or advice on the private rented sector, please contact our team.