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12 Apr 2020

Buy-to-let landlords and the coronavirus: your questions answered

Which? explains the guidance around payment holidays, evictions and repairs

The government has outlined a series of new rules for landlords as part of its response to coronavirus.

These include the introduction of mortgage payment holidays and changes to the repossession process.

Here, Which? answers the big questions facing landlords during the COVID-19 outbreak. If you're looking for advice for tenants, check out our story on coronavirus renting rights.

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What if my tenant can't pay the rent?

The government says that landlords aren't required to stop charging rent, but should have a 'frank and open conversation' with their tenant about their options if they'll struggle to pay.

If your tenant faces financial hardship, you can apply for a three-month payment holiday on your mortgage and pass this temporary relief on to them.

Alternatively, you may consider accepting a lower level of rent in the short term and set up a payment plan to cover any arrears further down the line.

The right solution will depend on your individual situation, so it is in both parties' interests to talk things through and find an agreement.

Can I claim possession of a property?

Until 30 September 2020, landlords won't be able to commence possession proceedings unless they give their tenants three months' notice.

The courts have suspended housing possession cases for 90 days from 27 March, and the government strongly advises landlords not to commence new cases without 'very good reason to do so'.

What happens if I've already issued notice?

If you've already issued your tenant with a possession notice, you won't be able to take action through the courts to enforce it for 90 days from 27 March.

Ultimately, this means that even if you've issued notice to your tenants, you shouldn't expect them to move out until this 90-day period is over.

Will I still need to carry out repairs?

The government advises that landlords and tenants take a 'pragmatic, common-sense-led approach' to any issues that emerge with a property during the coronavirus outbreak.

It specifies that landlord responsibilities haven't changed, and 'where reasonable, safe and in line with government guidance' tenants should allow landlords and contractors into the property to fix any serious problems.

These could include (but aren't limited to):

  • Problems with the building (such as a leaky roof) and security-critical problems (such as broken windows)
  • A broken boiler leaving the tenant without heating or hot water
  • Plumbing issues affecting washing or toilet facilities
  • Problems with white goods
  • If the tenant is disabled and has equipment that requires installation or repair.

Should I carry out gas and electrical safety inspections?

Landlords are required to arrange an annual gas safety check on appliances, and from 1 July will need to arrange electrical safety checks every five years.

If you're unable to access the property due to the current restrictions or can't arrange a contractor to undertake the inspection, you should document your attempts to do so, as well as any correspondence with your tenants.

The government says it is encouraging councils to take a common-sense approach to enforcement during the coronavirus outbreak.

Can I conduct viewings?

No. The guidance states that properties can only be accessed for 'serious and urgent' issues, such as those listed above, and that buyers and renters should delay their moves wherever possible.

This means that you should put on hold any viewings for new tenants until after the government's stay-at-home measures have been relaxed.

What happens if a tenant gets coronavirus?

If you're letting out a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) and one of the tenants displays symptoms, it's vital to be aware that landlords and other tenants cannot ask them to leave the property.

Landlords are not required to provide alternative accommodation for tenants if a flatmate or family member contracts the virus.

The government has set out guidance you can share with your tenants about what to do if a member of a household displays symptoms.

Will my council's licensing scheme still go ahead?

Many councils around the UK operate their own selective or additional licensing schemes for landlords, and some were in the process of rolling out new schemes before the coronavirus outbreak.

The government says that councils should adopt a pragmatic approach on licensing enforcement and consider pausing the introduction of any non-mandatory licensing schemes if this will allow resources to be focused on more pressing matters.

Which? coronavirus advice

Experts from across Which? have been compiling the advice you need to stay safe, and to make sure you're not left out of pocket.

You can keep up to date with our latest advice on the coronavirus outbreak over on our coronavirus news and advice section.