This article seeks to deal with the effect the COVID -19 virus has had and continues to have on the relationship between a Landlord and tenant of a privately rented property and the steps to take to mitigate areas of dispute.
Frequently asked questions
With businesses and the entertainment world now at lockdown, employees having either lost their jobs or been furloughed, questions naturally arise such as should landlords stop charging rent during the pandemic, what can they do about rent arrears, and what are the options when it comes to mortgage repayments?
The Coronavirus Act 2020
In considering the above and many other issues touching and concerning the landlord and tenant relationship, regard must be had to the Coronavirus Act 2020. Under this legislation, until 30th September 2020, landlords will not be able to commence possession proceedings for breaches of tenancy agreements, unless they have given those tenants at least three months notice in writing.
A court order is required to evict a tenant
So even when the three-month notice has expired, a landlord cannot evict the tenant without a court order. The landlord would need to commence proceedings for possession.
If there are already possession proceedings in place, these will be automatically suspended for 90 days from 27th March.
Warrants for possession
Furthermore, the Lord Chief Justice has said that where there is a warrant for possession of the property, applications to suspend such warrants must be given priority and that judges dealing with any possession claims must have the health and safety issues in mind, particularly since even if the lockdown is lifted, the COVID -19 virus will be with us for some time until a vaccine is developed.
Access by the landlord to their property
As regards access by landlords to their properties and health and safety measures, a common-sense approach following the government’s measures in place as to social distancing, and only to carry out essential work for health and safety reasons must be adhered to.
The payment of rent
Tenants must continue to pay rent but if they cannot due to having lost their jobs or having been furloughed at only 80% of their salaries, there is nothing better than having a full and frank discussion with their landlords to see what compromises can be made. It is in the interest of both parties to maintain a cordial relationship. The landlord will not be able to obtain possession for non-payment of rent for many months.
Examples of what can be agreed between landlord and tenant
Matters that can be agreed between landlord and tenant are, for example, not to seek possession action and accept a lower rent for a period of time, or agree a plan to pay off the arrears over a period of time. Any matters agreed must be in writing and signed by both parties.
It may well be the case that if a tenant falls into financial difficulties, they may be entitled to universal credit from the government so this is another avenue to explore, in particular for the employed who have not been furloughed but have been made redundant.
What if a house owner cannot pay the mortgage?
As a result of the Chancellor of the Exchequers intervention, all mortgage lenders have agreed to three month mortgage holiday, where this is needed due to Coronavirus related hardship, including for buy to let mortgages. The sum owed is merely deferred, so it remains.
Should landlords stop charging rent during the pandemic?
Landlords do not have to stop charging rent. In any event, each tenant’s circumstances are different, but depending on whether or not a tenant is struggling with rent, landlords should exercise flexibility where this is required, and come up with sensible solutions, as not to do so will not benefit either party and in fact, will be more of a disadvantage to a landlord than their tenant.
Landlords repairing obligations
During the current pandemic, where it is reasonably safe for a tenant to do so, and provided there can be compliance with social distancing, it is advisable to allow landlords and or their contractors access to the property to remedy urgent health and safety issues, which are required for the tenant to maintain their ability to live safely and maintain their mental and physical health in their home.
Landlords and tenants are realising that they must both be fair to one another during the current crises, as not to do so will produce no winners, but only losers.
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