A range of new measures and regulations have recently been introduced to the private rented sector, designed to protect private landlords and renters alike and prevent people losing their home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is important that you feel supported during these difficult times and know where to turn to for help. We've put together the following frequently asked questions (FAQs) to help you understand the new measures.
My tenant has stopped paying rent. What can I do?
Reach out to your tenant, an early conversation can really help. If they are facing financial difficulties, work with them as much as possible and try and arrange a new payment arrangement. It may be that your tenant can afford to pay some of the rent, and pay the rest at a later date.
If your tenant is receiving Universal Credit to cover their housing costs, you may be able to request that this is paid direct to you:
A wide range of financial support is available to any tenants in financial hardship. Let your tenants know that they can contact the private housing team for further advice and support.
Do I still need to pay Council Tax for my vacant properties?
Yes, you will continue to be liable for the Council Tax charges for any periods that your property is unoccupied. When a property becomes empty you may be entitled to a 100% discount for the first month, followed by a 25% discount for up to 6 months.
If you are struggling to pay your Council Tax you can:
What if I’m struggling with mortgage payments?
Mortgage holidays of up to 6 months are available to those who have been impacted by Coronavirus, with applications open to 31st March 2021. This includes those with a Buy to Let mortgage. The full 6 months is available to those who have not yet received a payment holiday, whereas those that have already received a payment holiday can have this topped up to 6 months without this being recorded on their credit file.
Landlords impacted by the non-payment of rent can contact their lenders to discuss and find out how to apply for the payment holiday. Please note that there is currently a suspension on the enforcement of lender repossession, except in exceptional circumstances (such as the borrower requesting that proceedings continue).
Can I still let out my vacant properties?
Yes, the latest government guidance has made it clear that moves can go ahead. Where possible, opt for virtual viewings before prospective tenants visit the property in person, in order to minimise public health risks. All physical viewings should take place by appointment and only involve members of a single household.
At the Council we work with individuals who urgently require a move during this time. These may be victims of domestic abuse fleeing violence, people in severely overcrowded or unsuitable accommodation, discharges from hospital or those in temporary accommodation in need of moving on. We are working hard to quickly source quality, affordable properties for these groups.
If you think you can help us with this, we can help you let out your vacant property and facilitate a ‘virtual’ application and sign-up in line with social distancing guidelines.
Do I still need to attend to repairs?
Yes, landlords can take steps to carry out both essential and routine repairs and safety inspections, as well as any planned internal works, providing that these are undertaken in line with public health advice and the relevant Coronavirus legislation. Repairs and inspections can also be carried out at households with clinically extremely vulnerable occupants, providing that the public health advice and legislation is again followed.
Landlords and tenants should work together to ensure that social distancing is maintained, and hygiene procedures followed.
Do I still need to carry out safety checks?
Safety in the home remains very important and therefore you should make every effort to comply with the existing gas safety regulations (requiring an annual gas safety check) and the new electrical safety regulations which came into force on 1st July 2020 (requiring an inspection every 5 years).
What if a tenant is unable to provide access to the property?
Tenants are still required to allow access for routine and essential repairs and inspections, including gas safety checks, providing it is safe and reasonable for them to do so. Gas inspections should not be carried out in homes that are self-isolating until after the isolation period has ended, unless it is to remedy a direct risk to the safety of the household.
The restrictions imposed by the current measures to minimise infection risks may make it more difficult to undertake safety checks, for example where households are isolating. Under such circumstances, providing you can demonstrate that you have taken all reasonable steps to comply (keeping copies of relevant correspondence with tenants and contractors), you would not be in breach of your legal duties.
Where a tenant is NOT isolating but persistently refuses to allow access to the property, landlords still have powers and tools available to gain access, including applying through the courts to obtain an injunction.
Can I take eviction proceedings against my tenant?
We strongly discourage landlords from commencing or continuing possession proceedings during this challenging time without a very good reason to do so. Amended legislation is currently in force in relation to the serving of notices and possession proceedings in the private rental sector.
As of 29th August 2020, a minimum of 6 months’ notice must be given when serving a section 21 or section 8 notice of eviction. Certain serious cases however are exempt from the 6-month rule, this includes those in relation to anti-social behaviour or domestic abuse, where tenants have passed away or where a tenant has accrued rent arrears to the value of at least 6 months’ rent.
If a tenant has not left the property following the expiry of the notice, you must then apply to the court for a possession order, setting out any information you have in relation to how the tenant, or any dependant of the tenant, have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. If a possession claim was lodged with the court before 3rd August 2020, you are required to notify both the court and your tenant that you still intend to seek repossession, by serving an activation notice.
Please note that legislation is currently in place until at least 31st March 2021, to ensure bailiffs do not serve or enforce eviction notices, except in the most serious instances. These include illegal occupation, anti-social behaviour and serious rent arrears (greater than 6 months’ rent).