30 March 2020

Can I carry out property inspections during the lockdown and what happens around possession claims and evictions?

The UK government’s advice to stay at home has crucial implications for landlords and tenants.

I’ll offer some guidance on best practice on some of the most common situations here.

Property viewings at the end of a tenancy during the Covid-19 lockdown

Property viewings, which will often take place towards the end of a tenancy, should not take place at this time. Some estate agents are continuing to make virtual viewings available. This remains an option for landlords.

Property inspections during the Covid-19 lockdown

All non-essential landlord inspections should be postponed at this time. Ignoring the Government’s controls on movement could result in the virus being spread. It could also result in criminal prosecution if routine and non-urgent inspections take place.

Carrying out property repairs during the Covid-19 lockdown

If repairs to a property are required, you consider how serious the need is. Non-urgent repairs and maintenance should be delayed. If essential works are required, to water supplies or heating systems, for example, landlords, agents and contractors must follow the Government’s advice on social distancing. It is also important that landlords and tenants communicate. If tenants have any symptoms of coronavirus, then the agent/landlord should be told.

Carrying out routine health and safety inspections during the Covid-19 lockdown

Gas Safe Register, the official gas registration body, has said that the Government’s controls on movement will make it hard for landlords to arrange their annual gas safety check. They have confirmed they are “working with the HSE [Health and Safety Executive] to provide new guidance specific to this three-week period”.

In the meantime, calls are being made to the HSE to extend the duration of the Landlord Gas Safety Records from 12 to 18 months. This will allow for problems in carrying out inspections due to controls on movement and for tenants having to self-isolate. An announcement from the HSE is expected shortly.

Seeking possession to evict tenants during the Covid-19 lockdown

The Government has extended the periods of notice that need to be given to end residential tenancies to three months. The legislation includes Assured Shorthold Tenancies, which are the most common kind. This could be extended to six months later on if needs be.

In practice, courts had been adjourning hearings of possession claims for the coming three months. Landlords who had already obtained possession orders were finding that bailiff evictions had effectively been suspended simply because bailiffs were not attending properties to conduct evictions.

Seeking possession to evict mortgage holders during the Covid-19 lockdown

Borrowers can seek a ‘mortgage holiday’ of up to three months. Missed payments are being added to the balance due and interest continues to accrue. This should give some breathing space if it’s needed.

However, borrowers who are already in arrears or going through recovery or possession proceedings are in a more uncertain position.

There is no legislation preventing the lender from enforcing their security at the moment. However, in practical terms it seems evictions will not take place. This is because of the way the courts are operating and the fact bailiffs are not attending properties.

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About the Author
Esther Stirling, Partner, Head of Agricultural and Rural Affairs

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