With letting agencies now returning to work following the period of lockdown, the government’s advice to accompany the easing of coronavirus restrictions is designed to ensure that tenants’ safety is of paramount importance in this next stage of the pandemic battle.
Tenants should be the top priority for letting and management agencies, and a new document released from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government outlines how the government is expecting the industry to act. This guidance includes taking steps so that tenancies are not ended in cases where the incumbent tenant is keen to stay on and has the means to do so.
The document covers a wide range of issues that might crop up and aims to answer as many questions as possible around coronavirus upfront in what will be a challenging period for many as we get to grips with enforcing the new rules. From very clear instructions of staying home and saving lives, the new guidelines are more ambiguous and open to interpretation.
Viewings can take place again, provided that tenants or prospective tenants are not showing any COVID-19 symptoms. If the tenants are self-isolating or are classed as vulnerable or high risk, then viewings should not go ahead. Where viewings do go ahead, the social distancing guidelines of staying 2 metres apart must be adhered to. There is also detailed advice about cleaning that must happen before and after viewings as well as the length of time permitted between viewings.
Where possible, repairs, regular maintenance and safety checks should be planned in and conducted in the interim period between one tenant moving out and the next moving in. If that is not an option, then they must be carried out by appointment, and only when physical contact can be limited. This could be when tenants are out, or confined to another room to ensure there is no contact.
However, that doesn’t mean that legal requirements around electrical and gas safety are suspended. Using a inventory management app can help your business to keep on top of what you can do and when, with deadlines as to the inspections that require completion. As we all get used to the new guidelines, there may be some pinch points in getting through the work, but having an app or software program in the office can help prove due diligence, provided that all contacts – and attempts at contact – are recorded.
Where a tenant is self-isolating or is showing symptoms of coronavirus, inspections required by law cannot be carried out in a timely manner and in those circumstances, a landlord would not currently be held in breach, provided that they can show the steps they have taken, which is where specially designed software can be invaluable.
The lettings arena has seen unusual activity in recent weeks; some tenants wanting to break their contract and go into lockdown with family elsewhere and others coming to the end of their tenancy who don’t want to move out in the current situation. That requires understanding and a degree of flexibility from all sides.
The flexibility extends to getting consent from landlords and tenants to conduct inventory checks and these should also be carried out between tenancies or in vacant periods where possible. Landlords will be responsible for ensuring that their letting property is handed over in a suitable state, and that includes a thorough clean aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus.
Where possible, technology can still offer huge benefits. Check-ins for new tenants, for example, could be conducted via video call.
These are small steps at this stage, although further relaxation will come, provided that the current restrictions are adhered to and we all continue to apply common sense.
Take a look at further advice and information in the InventoryBase Covid-19 Content Hub.