Section 81 of the Coronavirus Act 2020 (“the Act”) has provided significant protections to residential tenants during the pandemic. These apply to both private tenants and social tenants.
Landlords will need to consider their actions and options at the end of June as the deadline approaches for possession proceedings to be resumed and/or commenced.
Tenants will also need to prepare any potential defences and/or counter-claims in the event that a negotiated agreement has not been achieved in relation to rent, repairs and/or statutory obligations.
A quick guide to the current issues facing landlords and tenants is set out below.
Non-payment of rent
Tenants continue to be bound by their tenancy agreements including their covenant to pay rent. However, the Act temporarily suspends any enforcement of eviction processes arising from non-payment of rent for 3 months from 27 March 2020.
The government has requested a reasonable attitude from landlords and a degree of cooperation from tenants.
Landlords also are able to apply for a 3-month mortgage payment holiday (recently extended to 31 October 2020) in the event that they have a buy-to-let or commercial mortgage.
In many cases, landlords and tenants are agreeing reduced rental payments or agreements to accept arrears over instalments especially where new claims for benefits are being undertaken. However, money claims are still possible against tenants and/or guarantors.
All possession proceedings are subject to a 3-month stay of proceedings effective from 27 March 2020.
This means that all current possession proceedings are stayed including any bailiff’s writ of possession which cannot be enforced during the statutory stay period.
The usual notice periods applicable before a landlord can start a possession claim have been increased to 3 months before any court process can begin. This applies to most residential tenancies as well as licenses.
It is possible to bring a possession claim against squatters. Such claims are now outside of Practice Direction 51(z) (which is responsible for imposing a stay on possession proceedings).
Energy Efficiency Regulations
From 01 April 2020 landlords cannot let, or continue to let, domestic, private sector rented properties where there is a valid Energy Performance Certificate with a rating of F or G. These properties are categorised as “substandard” under the minimum energy efficiency regulations.
Affected landlords must now work to increase their energy efficiency in their properties or register an exemption.
Exemptions must be registered on the private rented sector exemption register together with supporting evidence. Currently, such exemptions will usually include a period of time for a landlord to make any improvements in order to bring the property up to the required standard.
Enforcement of minimum energy efficiency regulations rests with the local authority who can subject a landlord to financial penalties.
Currently, failure to comply will not prevent possession proceedings pursuant to Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 (“the HA”).
The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 continue to apply to landlords during the pandemic.
A failure to comply with gas safety checks may result in enforcement action by the Health and Safety Executive and / or prevent possession proceedings under Section 21 of the HA.
In the event that the landlord is struggling to complete gas safety checks due to lack of contractor availability or lack of access due to tenants self-isolating or suffering from Covid-19, accurate records should be kept of attempts made to complete the gas safety checks.
The Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Rented Sector (England) Regulations 2020 have been laid before Parliament for approval. These will require landlords to inspect and test fixed electrical installations every 5 years effective from 1 July 2020 for new tenancies and 1 April 2021 for existing tenancies.
All efforts should be made by landlords to undertake repairs during the pandemic.
This is almost certainly the case with regard to urgent repair work. However, non-urgent repair work should be deferred by agreement with the tenant. It should be explained to tenants and records kept that due to the pandemic contractor availability is limited.
Contractors visiting tenants at home should be advised to follow relevant government guidance on safety and social distancing.
Please note: The above article was written on 19 May 2020 and does not constitute legal advice.