Are tenant self service property inspections going to become the new norm as we emerge from lockdown? With the Government, quite rightly, highlighting the need for tenant safety both letting agents and landlords must make this their priority. That said; as inventory providers we too need to ensure that our working practices consider and help to protect tenants whilst we are at the property.
In a new document issued by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, agents are told to “endeavour to avoid ending tenancies where the tenant wants and is able to stay”.
The guidelines are specific on a wide range of issues including:
- private landlords and letting agents should not conduct viewings in properties where tenants are symptomatic or self-isolating, or where it has been determined that they are clinically extremely vulnerable and are shielding
- any visits to a property must be made in accordance with government guidelines on working from other peoples’ homes and social distancing;
- if possible, necessary repairs, gas and electrical safety checks should be conducted in the period between a property being vacated and a new tenant moving in
- if this is not possible and visits are needed to an occupied property, this should be done by appointment with measures put in place to ensure physical contact is minimised, for example with residents staying in another room during the visit
- letting agents may also want to consider obtaining landlord and tenant consent for inventory clerk appointments to also occur before a tenant moves in or after a tenant moves out during vacant periods if possible
With the need to stay alert, control the virus and save lives, when are visits actually needed at the property?
An inventory should be conducted before the tenant goes in so should be non contact but do adhere to your protocols for remaining safe whilst at the property (washing/santising hands and keys etc).
The check in can be conducted using e-signatures, sharing of all predescribed and required information via email so only the key handover will need to have some degree of contact but it can still be managed whilst adhering to social distancing guidelines.
The testing of smoke/carbon monoxide alarms is a key component of the check in that shouldn’t and cannot be ignored but again can be easily managed by ensuring the inventory clerk checks the number of units in the property; listing them so that they are present for each level/storey of the property and that each emits an audible tone. If this is done both at checkout and again at inventory it gives the agent/landlord ample time to sort out any units needing to be installed or fixed if not working.
Alarms can be then checked in the tenants presence by the agent entering, leaving the door open and testing them in earshot of the tenants before exiting the property. The tenant would then be advised to check again once in situ and ensure that if there are any issues that the agent is notified immediately.
Interim inspections are a vital source of information that help landlords and agents manage the property but are very difficult to carry out during the COVID-19 crisis as some tenants may be unwell, self-isolating and indeed worried about having people in their home.
Landlords quite rightly want to know if the property is being maintained, that there is no over occupancy, no pets present If they are not on the agreement but how do you safely carry out a property visit?
Inventory providers would need to ensure that social distancing is maintained, the property would need to be cleaned/sanitised as the tenant might not be able to show the clerk around so handels/surfaces would be touched. And there is also the worry that both the tenant and the clerk could be asymptomatic and unknowingly pass on the virus.
So should you take the risk when you don’t need to?
Tenant property inspections offer a self-service interim inspection report option that has been developed in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They allow the tenant to follow a simple but informative template to answer questions that the landlord/agent would need to know and includes an ability to upload as many pictures as the tenant wants to showcase how well they are looking after the property, highlight any potential maintenance issues and also provide the reassurance that the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms present are in working order.
With tenant guidance issued with the template plus additional telephone support there is really no need, certainly at the moment, for a physical interim inspection that could put the health and safety of both the tenants and the inventory provider at risk.