Accidental landlords and COVID-19, your questions answered
The Government rapidly introduced legislation to protect tenants during the current COVID-19 crisis, and these changes came into force from 26 March 2020 and will apply to most types of tenancy.
Press coverage has largely focused on renters. But what if you are a buy-to-let or accidental landlord, or own a holiday home which you let out? These changes will affect you too and you may be worried about their impact.
Here Laura Smith, a residential conveyancing expert with Viewpoint Hill & Abbott Solicitors in Chelmsford, answers some of the questions which homeowners have been asking.
My tenant says he does not have to pay rent because of the coronavirus crisis. Is this true?
No. The Government has said tenants should continue to pay rent and comply with the terms of their rental agreement if they can. However, if your tenant does not pay his rent, then you cannot start any legal action to evict him for three months, or longer if the government considers it necessary to extend this period.
Unfortunately, some tenants cannot pay their rent because of the crisis. Others have read in the press about a ‘three-month rent holiday’ and think this means they are not liable for rent during this period. This is not the case. Any rent arrears will continue to accrue, creating potential problems for both landlords and tenants in the future.
In theory, at the end of this three-month period, you should be able to recover the accumulated arrears. However, if you need to take legal action, there will be costs in doing so and your tenant may be unable to pay. So, it makes sense to address any issues proactively early on. Talk to your tenant. He may simply not fully understand his responsibilities. If he is struggling financially, you may want to explore an early action plan. This could involve agreeing a temporary lower level of rent or a plan for paying off arrears later.
I want to evict my tenant, can I still do so?
This will depend upon the type of tenancy agreement you have. In most cases, you will now need to give at least three months’ notice to your tenant if you want him to leave. If he does not leave at the end of that period, you will then need to apply for a court order for possession, a process which is likely to take at least an additional two months.
If, on 27 March, you had already applied to court for a possession order, then your application will be paused for three months.
These changes may make it harder for you to protect your property if you have a bad tenant. However, it is worth discussing your individual situation with your solicitor. She can advise you about any relevant exception to these new rules, for example if you need to evict a squatter. She can also ensure that, where appropriate, action is taken now so that any court proceedings can progress more quickly once this three-month period is over.
My tenant tells me I need to get the roof/boiler/shower fixed. What should I do?
Your obligations to your tenant have not changed. You may choose to reduce routine inspections and maintenance, but you must continue to ensure his home is safe and kept in repair. It is also important to follow government guidance on keeping yourself, your tenant, and any contractors safe.
You should continue to comply with gas safety regulations including annual inspections. If this is not possible, you will not be liable if you can show that you took all reasonable steps to comply. For further guidance, see advice for landlords issued by the Gas Safety Register.
I no longer want to share my home with my lodger. Can I ask her to leave?
Government guidance urges homeowners to be sympathetic to licensees, who may be experiencing hardship. The new rules apply only to tenants, not lodgers under a licence or informal sharing arrangement. If you want her to leave you do not usually have to apply to court for an order, although you must give reasonable notice.
Can I continue to rent out my holiday home?
Regulations prohibit you from renting out a holiday home or taking paying guests during the lockdown period. The Government may relax this ban in the future, but currently there are only extremely limited exceptions. For example, if your guests are unable to return to their main accommodation.
If you provide self-catering accommodation as a business, then you may be entitled to apply for financial support from the Government.
I am struggling to pay the mortgage on my rental property or holiday home, what should I do?
Most lenders will consider granting a three-month repayment holiday to borrowers affected by the crisis, and many have put in place procedures that allow you to self-certify and apply online. If you think you may have difficulty making a payment, you should contact your lender to discuss things first. Not making a payment without their agreement is not a payment holiday and may affect your credit rating.
A repayment holiday allows you to defer payments during a period of hardship. You will still owe the amounts you have not repaid and any interest due, so you should consider carefully how you will repay them. Your lender may suggest increasing your future monthly payments slightly or extending the term of your loan.
We understand how worrying the potential loss of rental income and other uncertainties can be. However, we are keeping on top of developments and will be there to help you successfully navigate your way through these challenging times.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.
For further information about the issues discussed, or residential property in general, please, contact Laura Smith in the conveyancing team on 01245 258 892 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Call Laura on: 01245 258 892
Email Laura at: email@example.com.