Law guide: Property

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Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Contents

Property and coronavirus

In this section you'll find information and updates related to coronavirus that are relevant to the laws on property.

The UK's response to coronavirus is changing regularly and often very quickly. While we'll continue to make every effort to keep this page up to date, there may be short periods where what you read here is not the latest information available. Where possible we've tried to provide links to official sources, so you can check the current situation.

Business leases

Eviction freeze

Business tenants are temporarily protected from eviction due to unpaid rent. The protection differs slightly in Scotland, when compared to the rest of the UK (see below).

The protection doesn't extend to cover for other payments under a lease, such as service charges and insurance – which is potentially a loophole that landlords could exploit, depending on the wording of the lease.

Another potential problem is that landlords can still take other action to recover rent, such as serving a statutory demand, which is usually the first step in the process of liquidating a business, or a winding-up petition against a limited company. However, the government has announced that statutory demands and winding up petitions issued to commercial tenants in England and Wales will to be temporarily voided.

If you're struggling to pay rent, discuss the situation with your landlord – be sure to put anything that you both agree in writing.

England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Landlords cannot use their right of re-entry or claim forfeiture for non-payment of rent until 30 June 2020. This also applies to trying to enforce current court claims. This date will be subject to review and may be extended.

The government intends to include new provisions in the Corporate Insolvency and Governance Bill to temporarily ban the use of statutory demands made between 1 March 2020 and 30 June 2020 and winding-up petitions presented from Monday 27 April to 30 June, if a company cannot pay its bills due to coronavirus. It states that any winding-up petition that claims a company is unable to pay its debts will be reviewed by the court to determine why, before any further action is taken.

The new legislation may be extended beyond 30 June, in line with the freezing of a landlord's right of re-entry or to claim forfeiture.

New legislation will also be made to stop landlords using commercial rent arrears recovery (a statutory procedure that allows landlords of commercial leases to recover rent arrears by taking control of their tenant's goods and selling them), unless 90 days or more of unpaid rent is owed. Previously, a minimum of only 7 days unpaid rent was needed.

Scotland

Landlords cannot use their right to claim irritancy for non-payment of rent until the end of September 2020. This may be extended. Any notice served must give 14 weeks' (not 14 days') notice.

As of 27 April there have been no announcements on preventing the use of statutory demands and winding-up petitions, or on changing Scotland's equivalent of the commercial rent arrears recovery procedure (a money attachment).

Business rates support

See our Coronavirus (COVID-19) guide on Debts and debt recovery for information on the business rates support that's currently available.

Residential tenancies

Notice period extensions

England and Wales

Due to the pandemic, the government has temporarily extended the notice period for all possession notices to 3 months. This applies to all notices issued from 26 March 2020 up to and including 30 September 2020. The government may extend this further.

This is instead of the usual 2 months for section 21 notices, and 2 weeks for section 8 notices served on the grounds of there being 8 weeks of rent arrears.

All possession claims that are currently in court have been postponed for 90 days.

Scotland

The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 has temporarily made all 18 grounds for eviction in the private sector discretionary.

Possession notices served on or after 7 April 2020 have an extended period of up to 6 months, depending on the ground being used. For example, if you are seeking to evict a tenant for rent arrears, the minimum notice period before you can apply for an eviction order is 6 months. See mygov.scot for details of which period applies to each ground.

These provisions will expire on 30 September 2020, but may be extended by the Scottish Government to 31 March 2021, and then potentially for a second (and last) time to 30 September 2021.

Northern Ireland

So far, the Northern Ireland Assembly has not introduced similar extensions to notice periods. See Housing advice for Northern Ireland for more.

Gas safety checks and other repairs

Gas safety

Your health and safety obligations to your tenants haven't changed as a result of the pandemic, though they are probably more difficult to carry out.

Gas safety checks should continue. That may not be possible if you're unable to find a suitably qualified engineer still working during the pandemic, or because the tenants are self-isolating and refusing access. In those cases, make a list of all the actions you've taken to try and arrange the check, so that you can later show (if necessary) that you took all reasonable steps to fulfil your obligation.

The Gas Safe Register has published guidance for landlords on this.

Other repairs

Routine inspections and non-urgent repairs should be put on hold for now. However, you still have a duty to deal with urgent problems.

Tenants can still let builders or other tradespeople into their home while lockdown restrictions are in place, provided that:

  • they're there to carry out essential repairs or maintenance; and
  • they don't have any coronavirus symptoms.

If the household is isolating or contains a person who is being shielded (because they are particularly vulnerable), tradespeople should not enter unless the work is an emergency repair – that means something that poses a risk to the household if left unfixed (e.g. a water leak or an unsafe structure).

The tenants and the tradesperson should remain at least 2 metres apart at all times and follow all the standard hygiene advice (e.g. regular handwashing for at least 20 seconds, and/or use of gloves).

For more information, see government guidance on working safely in other people's homes.

Amendments to right-to-rent checks in England

Right to rent checks can now be made:

  • via video call; or
  • by tenants sending scans or photos of documents via email or a mobile app, rather than sending originals.

You must still make the check and use the Landlord's Checking Service if acceptable documents can't be provided. The government has also updated its right to rent guide.

Government advice

Official advice on the effects of coronavirus is available for landlords in:

England

Wales

Scotland; and

Northern Ireland.

Energy performance certificates deadline extension

Energy Performance Certificates (EPCs) are still required when selling or renting a property. The current requirement is for reasonable efforts to be made to produce an EPC within at least 7 days of the day a property is put on the market.

However, social distancing measures must now be used when assessing a property. Therefore, new guidance will allow a further 21 days to produce it, where reasonable efforts have been made to obtain one. After this, enforcement action may be taken.

Construction site operating procedures

While the construction industry has been allowed to continue operating during the pandemic, the UK government has published information for the construction industry. It expects the industry to comply with the site operating procedures (SOP) issued by the Construction Leadership Council (CLC).

The SOP is based on the guidance provided by Public Health England (PHE) (different guidance may apply to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and this is in turn enforced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Where a construction site consistently does not comply with the requirements of the HSE it may be subject to enforcement action.

This SOP sets out in detail the considerations relevant to operating construction sites during the pandemic, such as:

  • When to Travel to Work
  • Travel to Work
  • Driving at Work
  • Site Access and Egress Points
  • Hand Washing
  • Toilet Facilities
  • Canteens and Rest Areas
  • Changing Facilities, Showers and Drying Rooms
  • Work Planning to Avoid Close Working
  • First Aid and Emergency Service Response

The best way for construction companies to protect their workers while working during the pandemic is to follow the SOP as closely as possible, and make construction workers aware of its contents so that each can individually comply to protect themselves and each other.

Building work disputes

Due to the pandemic and its effects on the ability to complete building work in the normal way and within the normal timescales, there will potentially be many disputes. Contractual obligations that are likely to come under pressure include:

  • the supplier's ability to complete contracts on time;
  • the owner's ability to make payments on time; and
  • suppliers claiming that they're experiencing a situation 'outside their control' (i.e. a Force Majeure), requiring extensions of completion and performance dates.

It is therefore the CLC's and the government's aim to encourage responsible and fair contractual behaviour.

The CLC provides template letters that can be used by both sides to respectively give notice of and respond to the impact of the pandemic.

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