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What are my rights as a landlord or tenant during the pandemic?

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There has been a wealth of new information and legislation released in just a few short months surrounding the UK rental market, leaving many tenants and landlords unsure as to where they stand.

Movinghomeadvice.com has pulled together the facts and figures to try and address some of the grey areas of the UK rental market at the moment.

Evictions

The main piece of Government legislation from the Coronavirus Act 2020 means that tenants in the private and social rented sector cannot be evicted for at least three months.

This means if a landlord does want you to leave they must first issue notice seeking possession and then wait for three months from that date until they can proceed with the eviction process, instead of the usual one to four weeks.

This legislation was introduced on 27 March this year and applies to any new evictions as well as those just about to enter the system. It will apply in law until 30th September 2020 but as with all Government changes at the moment, this could be extended ‘if required’.

However, this three months does not relieve a tenant from the obligations of their tenancy agreement. Even if your landlord does serve you notice, you are still required to pay rent in full for the duration as they remain legally due to the ‘best of your ability’. This applies even if you haven’t been given notice and regardless of your employment and financial situation.

In addition to the measures in the Coronavirus Act 2020,a Practice Direction to stop possession claims from progressing has been issued by the Master of the Rolls, with the agreement of the Lord Chancellor. This is in line with wider public health advice against non-essential movement and means no progress will be made on evictions during the 90 days from 27th March 2020. Therefore, if you were served with an eviction notice prior to the outbreak of the Coronavirus, this will not be enforced until after this date giving you additional time to make alternative arrangements.

As a landlord, it’s important to talk with your tenant and gauge their financial situation and any fluctuation they may be seeing in income. An early conversation and adjustment to your agreement could be more favourable when compared to the process of an eviction.

However, as already mentioned, if you do issue an eviction notice you will not be able to progress this until the three month notice has expired. Once this has expired, you are unable to evict the tenant until you have acquired a court order to do so. This means as a tenant, you aren’t legally obliged to leave the property as soon as the three months is up, although you should make the most of this time to arrange alternative accommodation.

Landlords can make use of the Government’s buy-to-let mortgage holiday if their tenant is unable to pay, however this sum will remain payable and continue to accrue interest. As a landlord, you are not required to stop charging rent either due to the pandemic or when taking a mortgage holiday and the tenant will remain legally bound to clear all outstanding rental arrears, regardless of whether you evict them or not.

Grey areas

It’s been widely reported that many landlords have continued to evict tenants during the pandemic, most notably the eviction of NHS staff through fears of infection.

In these cases, the ‘tenant’ was actually legally classed as a lodger or in temporary housing and unfortunately, these protective measures do not apply. As in regular market conditions, lodgers can be evicted without notice and do not have to be afforded 30 days before evicting.

What’s the difference?

If you are providing lodgings, holiday lets, hostel accommodation or accommodation for asylum seekers you can evict without notice. The main difference is often a live in landlord and lodgers will have an agreement called a licence, rather than the Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) which is agreed between a landlord and tenant. This license allows landlords to evict lodgers with ‘reasonable notice’, usually a month but often much shorter.

What if you or your tenant have tested positive? 

If you or your tenant tests positive for COVID-19 you should follow the Government guidelines on self isolation for a minimum of two weeks in mild cases. More severe cases may require three to six weeks.

As a tenant, you should immediately inform your landlord and anyone else that shares the house with you. Landlords should only visit the property for urgent health and safety reasons while taking the necessary precautions.

Where evictions are concerned, it would seem that we are yet to see a case of tenant eviction while suffering from the Coronavirus as the 90 day freeze on evictions is still in play. Outside of this, the same three month period applies on evictions and again, the landlord will require an eviction notice so if you are self isolating, it’s advised you stay put.

The strong advice to landlords is to refrain from eviction proceedings unless they have a very good reason to do so, particularly if their tenant has COVID-19. Ultimately, those that proceed in this scenario will have to allow the courts to decide at which point a tenant’s period of self isolation will probably have expired anyway.

How do I find somewhere to live or rent my property?

Delaying your rental move should be done where at all possible and if you are showing symptoms of Coronavirus you should refrain completely from moving to a new property.

If you need to move house then it’s vital to adhere to medical advice on social distancing at all times. Luckily the property industry has been heavily disrupted by technology and today you should be able to search and secure a rental property without leaving your home.

Many agents have pivoted to provide virtual viewings but if you need to view in person, remain two metres apart from all parties during the process.

There’s no reason that once you’ve decided on a rental home you can’t progress the process and sign any contracts and agreements virtually.

When moving, try to do so without external help and give your new property a deep clean to be on the safe side.

As a landlord, online management agents like Howsy can allow for a hands off approach to managing your buy-to-let with additional protections such as guaranteed rent and repairs.

Ultimately, if you already have a place to stay you should negotiate with your landlord to extend your contract until such point a degree of normality returns.

Co-founder of Movinghomeadvice.com, Russell Quirk said, “The most crippling thing about the current pandemic where the property market is concerned is the uncertainty it has caused. Not just around values but where tenant and landlord rights are concerned and the usual procedures that have now been impacted such as evictions.

While some landlords and tenants may well exploit these new measures for personal gain, the majority remain honest and keen to do their part to help overcome the spread of the Coronavirus.

“Yes, there are still a great deal of grey areas within this new legislation, as well as a number of open ended deadlines that could still change. The important thing is to communicate with your landlord or tenant, let them know your position and work together to find a solution.”




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