How to Let Safely During the COVID-19 Crisis

Whilst many occupations have faced radical operational changes over the last year or so, landlords and property managers have found themselves scrambling for a footing amongst a mounting pile of changing legislation to abide by. Whilst the dismal global financial has left many tenants wondering how they are going to pay their rent, landlords have been faced with missing income and extra measures to ensure tenant safety.

Whilst tenants have been afforded room to breathe with falling behind on their rental payments, similarly landlords do enjoy some leeway with new legislation, particularly in regards to duties that involve entering the rental property with members of the public from multiple households.

We recognise the complications that may arise for landlords during this time and have therefore curated a guide on the changes to landlord regulations during coronavirus, and advice on how landlords can safely continue to let out there rental properties during the pandemic.

Tips for Managing Your Property Safely

Government Guidelines on Property Viewings

Landlords are still permitted to visit a property under their management during lockdown; however the UK government have issues a set of guidelines that place extra emphasis on landlords and tenants obligation to uphold the safety of the tenants. In an effort to minimise the interaction between members of different household, the safety recommendations state that when possible potential tenants should have the ability to view a rental property virtually before visiting in person. If anyone associated with the rental viewing starts to display symptoms of coronavirus it is imperative that the property viewing is delayed until a safe period. The UK government also recommends that in the event of any in person viewings, the landlord or letting agent should be with the potential tenants to guide them around the property and enforce social distancing and accompanying safety measures. Anyone attending the viewing of a rental property must also be wearing appropriate face coverings, unless they are exempt on health grounds. The safety guidelines further stipulate that the current occupants of the property should not be inside during any in person viewings, with all interior doors and light switches being wiped down, and access to hand washing facilities being provided.

Property Maintenance During Lockdown

It goes without saying that it is of the upmost interest of both tenants and landlords to ensure that each rental property is safe to occupy and is in a decent state of repair and free from any potential safety hazards.

As long as the current occupants of a rental property are not exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 or are self-isolating, then the landlord, workers and the local authorities are able to access the property in the instance of essential repair work, or pre planned maintenance.

Understandably, some tenants may express concerns over the spread of the virus may be hesitant to allow people into the rental property and put themselves at an increased risk of infection. In these instances the importance of communication and understanding between the landlord and tenant cannot be understated. Landlords can try and arrange another date in the near future for any work to be carried out, however, if the work is essential then it must be carried out in accordance to safety guidelines.

Only emergency repair work that would otherwise leave the tenants at a great risk should be conducted in a property where a tenant is self-isolating. However, even in these instances the landlord should discuss with the tenant how the work can be best carried out in the safest manor, avoiding any extended contact with people from outside the property.

Gas and Electrical Safety Inspections During COVID-19

Despite lockdown and the difficulties landlords may face in accessing their property for maintenance work, they are still legally obliged to ensure all gas and electric appliances and heating are safe for use and have been examined by a verified engineer.

Being implemented on the 1st June 2020, the electrical safety check demands that landlords have a certified electrician inspect the safety of their electrical appliances and outlets throughout the property. Unlike the gas safety checks, the electrical inspections only have to be carried out every five years, but an electrical safety report still needs to be issued to tenants with 28 days on its receipt.

Typically, gas safety inspection will be conducted by a gas safe engineer that will inspect the integrity of the properties heating system, boiler, pipes and flues, with a gas safety report being provided if everything is found to be in working order. These checks are to be carried out every year, with a copy of the gas safety report being provided to the occupants of the rental property within 28 days.

For many landlords the dates for these inspections fall firmly within the timeframe of UK lockdown, meaning that self-isolating tenants, the fleeting availability of workmen and a flexible tiered local lockdown system are significant roadblocks to completing these safety assessments.

 However, for landlords worrying that lockdown will impede their ability to carry out these checks the government has stated that as long as a landlord is able to prove they have tried to take all necessary action to make them happen and comply with the Gas Safety Regulation 1998, and Electrical Safety Standards Regulations 2020, then they will not be considered in breach of these obligations. To this end it is recommended that landlords document their communication with tenants when trying to arrange these works.

Changes to Eviction During COVID-19

Of course it’s no secret how difficult the last year or so has been for so many. The corona virus has been unscrupulous in those it has effected, with many global industries grinding to a halt. But, how do these affect landlords? Well, after reports a recent poll conducted by UK charity, StepChange, revealed that 19 million adults, or 38% of the UK has experienced some sort of loss of income from since the start of lockdown, 150,000 renters are now in danger of facing eviction.

Whilst the governments furlough scheme did somewhat mitigate the overwhelming financial distress caused to the nation, cut hours, job losses and a hostile recruitment climate have resulted in 460,000 renters accumulating some amount of rental arrears.

The government has advised landlords to be more understanding with their tenants that start to accumulate rental arrears. As mentioned a large proportion of the nation’s workforce is continuing to experience a significant fluctuation in wages and therefore reaching an early agreement is in the best interest of the landlords and tenants. If occupants feel that they are going to miss a rental payment it is imperative to notify the landlord as soon as possible. If there is communication between the two parties then a payment plan can be established, allowing the tenant to temporarily pay the landlord a reduced amount each month to avoid a possession order being carried out.

With the implementation of the Coronavirus Act 2020 tenants are able to enjoy an increased amount of protection within the private sector. These new measures require any landlords wishing to pursue a possession order to provide far more notice to tenants than what was previously required. Possession order notices that were issued to a tenant between the 26th March and 28th August 2020 required that the landlord gave 3 months’ notice before proceedings began. However, as of the 29th August 2020 any landlord wishing to pursue a possession order on their property must first give their tenants 6 months’ notice.

There are exceptions to this rule, circumstance under which a landlord is able to evict a tenant in a much shorter time frame. These specific eventualities encompass tenants displaying anti-social behaviour, domestic abuse and rioting, with the notice period in these instances being the same as before the Coronavirus Act was implemented.

Whilst section 21 noticed and small amounts of rental arrears requires at least 6 months’ notice from the landlord, if the rent is left unpaid for over 6 months then a landlord is able to commence possession proceedings after only 4 weeks of notifying the tenant.

Other Points to Keep in Mind

Landlords and property owners should remain vigilant of local lockdown rules, especially if their portfolio has been established over a wide area. These will place limits on the maximum amount of people that are allowed to meet at once, if different households can mix and nuances to social distancing guidelines.

If you currently have vacant properties ensure that those coming to view them wear appropriate face coverings and are symptom free at the time. This also informs a revised cleaning regimen between viewings including doors, lights and surfaces, with any paperwork that would be exchanged being done so digitally. This move to digital communication could extend to meetings with tenants, discussing repair work and virtual property tours!

Show Your Rental Safely With 3d Virtual Tours

Restrictions on multiple households gathering, unnecessary traveling and numerous social distancing measures have made 3D virtual property tours an essential part of marketing any buy to let rental property during the pandemic.

There has been much talk on how this new form of property media is set to revolutionise the rental online marketing space, in an industry that hasn’t been able to see past flat property photography for nearly two decades.  But in this current climate, 4D virtual property tours are less about standing out online, but keeping yourself and tenants safe.

But the ability for these digital showcases to cast a larger net for landlords looking to fill their empty lets is undeniable, with Matterport finding that 69% of property sellers that didn’t feel virtual tours were a necessity before the pandemic now do. They further report that as of September 2020, 71% of those looking to purchase property said they would complete the process without first seeing the property in person.

These 3D digitally rendered property tours save landlords the hassle of having to implement and navigate social distancing guidelines, something difficult to enforce in a smaller rental property. Instead, virtual tours allow potential tenants to explore a rental opportunity at any time, virtually anywhere.

With the tedious drives between properties for tenants and the headache that comes with arranging multiple viewings being largely redundant at this present time, 3D virtual property tours have allowed rental properties to capture the engagement of renters that would typically be too far away for a viewing, opening the doors of rental properties to entirely new audiences.

Photorealistic 3D tours offer tenants a property viewing experience currently unrivalled in authenticity. Prospective tenants are able to engage with properties in their own way, navigating an independent course through each rental, with each space being dimensionally accurate and fully immersive. This meticulous accuracy is thanks to the collection of billions of reference points throughout the property, allowing those viewing the rental to measure the distance between any points in the let, essential if the property is unfurnished, or if you need to know how you’re getting that sofa in the living room.

With 78% of renters worrying that images they are shown of a property have been edited or taken from manipulative angles, 3D virtual tours also address this longstanding issue in the rental industry, finally giving renters full confidence in the new home they choose.

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