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Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Advice for Landlords & Tenants

Tuesday 19 May, 9.30am

The Minister of Housing has sent a letter setting out the measures that are in place to support social housing residents during the next phase towards reopening society. This letter is being sent directly to all social housing residents. Read the Minister’s letter. 

 

The government’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic has imposed restrictions which are relevant for landlords in the private rented sector. However, landlords can still access their properties and ensure that works are carried out to meet legal obligations and ensure tenant welfare whilst observing social distancing measures.

The government’s advice at present is to only leave your house for the following reasons:

  • Shopping for essentials
  • For exercise (once daily)
  • Travelling to and from work (when work cannot be completed from home)
  • To care for a vulnerable person
  • For a medical reason.

Full details can be found on the Government website Coronavirus page. Tenants who live alone will need to self isolate for seven days in the event of becoming symptomatic. For people who live with others, the advice is for all members of the household to self-isolate for 14 days from the point the first person showed symptoms. If anyone does develop symptoms towards the end of this period they should still isolate for seven days from the point of showing symptoms. The cough may persist for several weeks after the infection has cleared. You do not need to continue to self isolate beyond the 7 day period for this reason alone. Anyone whose symptoms do not improve after 7 days or whose symptoms worsen (for example an increased breathing rate when inactive) should visit NHS 111 online or call 111 from their phone if they do not have access to the web. If symptoms are severe (for example being so short of breath you cannot speak in sentences or chest pain) call 999 immediately.

A landlord who needs to visit their property in response to a serious health and safety concern is covered by these exemptions as would be visits to the property by their tradesperson to complete essential repairs (provided both parties are well and non-symptomatic). Council staff who deal with the enforcement of standards in the private rented sector will still be responding to complaints concerning health and safety risks in the private rented sector and there are no measures to prevent the council from taking enforcement action in circumstances where there is serious risk to health and safety. We are adapting our working practices to minimise the spread and may rely on photos from tenants in lower risk cases. We will contact landlords on the basis of these reports but will be understanding in terms of the timescales we are allowing for resolution. We anticipate that by far the majority of cases can be dealt with informally based on common sense agreements.

The principal aim of the government’s public health measures to combat the virus are to limit the number of contacts between members of the community. Throughout the period of controls being in place you will need to ensure:

  • You and persons working for you only visit your property if there is a serious health and safety concerns which needs to be addressed. During the visit all persons present must maintain a distance of 2m between themselves to limit the possibility of transmission.
  • Avoid gatherings of more than two people from separate households (for example do not attend with your tradesperson should a repair be necessary).
  • Carry out “Right to Rent” checks by requesting tenants to submit electronic copies of their documents or video call the prospective tenant and ask them to hold the documents up to the camera so you can check them. Record this as an adjusted check due to COVID-19 and record the date. The advice in full can be found on the Government’s Coronavirus (COVID-19): landlord right to rent checks webpage.
  • Avoid physical viewings with prospective new tenants. Try to use video calls instead to limit contact. Only make videos for advertising purposes once your property becomes vacant.
  • If a move becomes unavoidable, tenancy check in & out should only be performed with no more than two people present and social distancing guidance will need to be followed (i.e. maintain a distance of 2m at all times).
  • Check with your tenant to see if they have been requested to shield as they belong to a high risk group who are at a greater risk from the virus. Persons belonging to these high risk groups have been advised strongly by the NHS to limit social contacts and careful thought will be required as to the necessity for anyone to visit the property.

The current measures will make it more difficult to manage your property. There are some practical steps you can take to allow you to manage your business during the crisis:

  • Follow the decontamination advice on the Government’s COVID-19: cleaning of non-healthcare settings webpage if a tenant moves out. Send your tenants a copy of a poster which covers how to limit spread within the home. This poster can be found in the final dropdown section below.
  • Avoid pre-planned property inspections unless there is a justifiable health and safety reason to go ahead.
  • If you are aware of a repair which needs doing but the tenant is unable to permit access due to self-isolation, ask them to document this in a text or an email. Work should not be carried out in properties where the tenant is self isolating or shielding (tenants who are more vulnerable to the infection due to their medical condition) unless there is a serious and direct threat to tenant safety.
  • We are advising that non-essential repair works be delayed until the peak of the pandemic has subsided. Matters which we would not consider appropriate to delay would include; water supply problems, sanitation, security, fire safety, electrical safety, gas safety, heating & hot water faults. We are likely to carry out physical inspections of these types of defects if there are no other complicating factors (for example lab confirmed cases and properties where shielding is taking place).
  • Specific advice concerning your legal position & gas safety can be found through the Gas Safe Register website. Please make use of the two month window you have to arrange the safety check as this can provide an important contingency for you in the event of self isolation or shortages of safety engineer.

Legionnaires’ Disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia caused by the inhalation of small droplets of contaminated water containing Legionella bacteria. All man-made hot and cold water systems can provide an environment where Legionella will grow but the risks in most residential settings are generally considered to be low owing to daily water usage which is sufficient to turn over the entire system.

Where a property or bedsit room with its own en-suite has not been used for a long time, however, such as during lockdown when the tenant has stayed elsewhere or you have not been able to move a tenant in, the period of time that water has been standing in pipework means that the bacteria may multiply. When water in these pipes is first used, airborne droplets of water have a potential risk of containing Legionella, particularly from shower heads.

As a general principle, outlets on hot and cold water systems should be used at least once a week to maintain a degree of water flow and minimise the chances of stagnation. To manage the risks during non-occupancy, consideration should be given to implementing a suitable flushing regime or other measures such as draining the system if it is to remain vacant for long periods.

Any hot water cylinders (calorifiers) should be set to ensure water is stored at no lower than 60°C. Before opening up or re-letting your property after lockdown, you must consider the risks presented by Legionella, especially if the water systems have not been proactively run during this period or not drained down, and must take appropriate action to minimise the risk of Legionnaires Disease, for which you may need specialist help and advice.

Advice and guidance can be found in the attached document in the final dropdown section below and on the Health and Safety Executive website.

No – there is no universal rent holiday during this emergency period. Tenants should continue to pay rent and abide by all other terms of their tenancy agreement to the best of their ability.

The government has a strong package of financial support available to tenants, and where they can pay the rent as normal, they should do. Tenants who are unable to do so should speak to their landlord at the earliest opportunity.

As mentioned above, notice periods for possession have changed and legal proceedings have been stayed by the Coronavirus Act 2020 and associated regulations. Our advice is to negotiate as early as possible in situations where a tenant is having difficulty paying rent and be prepared to accept payment plans or a period of rent at a lower value. Make use of the mortgage holiday periods if you are able.

The Government has advised that if anyone in a household shows symptoms of Coronavirus, the household should self isolate for 14 days. Please ask your tenants to ensure that they tell all other members of the House with Multiple Occupancy (HMO) and the property manager if they become symptomatic.

The property manager should then advise all tenants by email or text that a member of their household is showing symptoms of COVID-19 and that household isolation will be necessary for 14 days. Please feel free to attach and send a copy of the tenant letter in our download section below with the email along with copies of the household isolation & home hygiene posters. It would be sensible to provide hand sanitizer and soap if a member of an HMO household is self isolating to limit the risk of transmission. You may also find the following advice concerning decontamination after someone has displayed symptoms useful.

We understand that check in and check out procedures present a particular difficulty in HMOs, however we advise that you contact all tenants at the HMO in advance of your visit so that the meeting between yourself and the tenant who is moving in/out can occur without anyone else present. Social distancing should be maintained during the visit.

Cleaning services within HMOs should be suspended whilst measures are in place. Instead consider providing materials and instructions to your tenant and suggest they devise a rota. A rent deduction to account for this may increase participation.

A letter is included in the documents to download section below (translated tenant versions are available in Kurdish, Romanian, Polish, Albanian, Arabic & Latvian). This provides advice to both HMO landlords and tenants about keeping safe in shared property. Please feel free to download and distribute.

Subject to very limited exemptions (for example those for “key workers”) this type of letting is most probably prohibited during the emergency period by Reg 5(3) and 6(1) The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020.

Social distancing measures are an essential tool in the fight against the virus. You can report people and businesses who are breaching the measures.

Contact

Housing Advice Team

housingadvice@northlincs.gov.uk

Customer Contact Centre

01724 297000

Housing Standards Team

housing@northlincs.gov.uk

Customer Contact Centre

01724 297000