April 29, 2020
The recent measures implemented by the UK Government have included protections for businesses and workers across all sectors including protection for housing associations, landlords and tenants.
1. Can tenants be evicted during the pandemic?
The short answer is no. The Government have confirmed that, until 30 September 2020, the notice period (regardless of the grounds on which possession is sought) is to be extended to three months, with the potential for this to be extended further to a maximum of 6 months.
In addition to the longer notice periods, the Government has also announced that all housing possession actions are to be suspended for a period of 90 days from 27 March 2020.
2. Are tenants still required to pay rent?
Yes. Rent will continue to be payable as normal. However, this is likely to cause a surge in possession proceedings post-pandemic with many tenants unable to pay rent due to loss of employment, loss of revenue for self-employed tenants and many other contributing factors.
Landlords are being urged to enter into agreements with their tenants for rental payments. This could include arrangements to delay and/or reduce rent. However, at present, there is no requirement on landlords to do so.
3. What can you do if you receive reports of anti-social behaviour?
Housing associations may receive increasing numbers of reports relating to anti-social behaviour over the next few months, particularly with social distancing measures expected to last for up to six months.
Whilst possession proceedings have been suspended for the time being, civil injunctions under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 are still available to landlords.
The UK’s first ‘Coronavirus injunction’ was recently ordered against a social tenant, following reports that they had been hosting house parties of more than 20 people, with flagrant disregard for the government’s guidance on social distancing.
Where an injunction is breached, committal proceedings can still be brought against the tenant for contempt of court.
4. What are the mental health considerations?
There remains a duty on social landlords to try to make reasonable adjustments for existing disabled tenants, including those who suffer from serious long-term mental illnesses. Housing associations should also be conscious that tenants who have never suffered from serious mental ill health before may begin to struggle during the COVID-19 crisis – the causes of which may include social isolation, financial worries, uncertainty and domestic disputes. This may be compounded by the fact that housing officers may not be able to provide frontline welfare services in the same way as previously. However, housing associations will need to ensure they continue to make support services available to tenants, even if this does not include face-to-face visits except in urgent cases.
These considerations also apply in relation to the mental health of housing association staff. Find out more about managing employee mental health here: https://bit.ly/3cLicam.
5. Do the obligations on social landlords as regards maintenance and gas servicing etc remain in place?
The bottom line is that social landlords’ obligations in respect of repair, maintenance, gas and electrical safety have not changed.
However, Government guidance does emphasise the need for social landlords to engage with their tenants and take a “pragmatic, common-sense approach to non-urgent issues which are affected by COVID-19 related restrictions” – recommending that access to properties should only be given for serious and urgent issues.
Whether a repair is serious and/or urgent will need to be assessed on a case by case basis, taking into account any specific needs of the tenant and whether they are elderly and/or vulnerable. If the risk posed to the tenant by visiting the property is greater than the risk posed by not carrying out the work, then the works should be postponed until a later date. If the works must go ahead then enhanced health and safety measures should be adopted, including the wearing of personal protective equipment. Social distancing guidelines should also be adhered to.
Gas servicing is slightly more difficult than repairs; the guidance suggests that landlords must abide by gas safety regulations, however if this is not possible due to COVID-19, they must keep a record of correspondence with tenants in relation to attempts to carry out the necessary work.
Our advice to social landlords facing this issue would be to continue conducting annual gas safety checks where possible, ensuring that enhanced health and safety measures are put in place (such as wearing of PPE and ensuring that social distancing guidelines are adhered to). However, if this is not possible, either because you are unable to identify an engineer who is able and willing to carry out the checks, or, because your tenant is refusing access to their property (or the tenant cannot be contacted), then ensure that you keep a detailed written record of this and all attempts made to contact the tenant and/or gain access to the property.
If in doubt, seek legal advice.
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