We are all affected by coronavirus in some way, and the community needs to stick together, protect each other and stay safe. What has to be the ‘new norm’ for now will revert back to business as usual at some point and we should all take comfort, and practice that community spirit when dealing with people.
The Governments guidelines are clear and need to be followed at all times, including maintaining a two metre distance from others and washing hands with soap and water often for at least 20 seconds (or using hand sanitiser gel if soap and water is not available).
The governments in England and Wales have both released specific guidance for landlords, tenants and local authorities.
- – For the guidance from the Government in England click here
- – For the guidance from the Government in Wales click here
No work should be carried out by a person who has, or will knowingly come into contact with a person with coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms, however mild.
Whether you are a landlord, agent or tenant, we hope the following Q & A may offer some help when dealing with your rental properties, as we need to alter common practice in these very strange times.
Q. I am a landlord and my tenants still want to move into the property, even earlier than planned, which I am happy for them to do as the house is empty, but what should I do as I won’t be able to carry out the check-in inspection?
A. While not ideal, where a property is empty and has been for some time, and it is safe for you, or the person to do so, a check-in inspection can still be done. However if you are unable to organise and provide a check-in report, the options are:
- – To arrange a video call with the tenant once they have the keys and walk around the property checking each area. You can make notes as you go, and follow up the call with an email confirming what you saw and discussed, remembering both condition and the standard of cleaning in the property. The tenant should be encouraged to confirm the details of your email
- – For landlords or agents to send the tenants the check-out report from the previous tenancy, ONLY if it was carried out very recently and little, or no work, was carried out before the new tenancy start date. The new tenants should be asked to make any amends, take photographs to support their comments, date and email it back to you within seven days. This can act as a starting point to protect both you and the tenant in relation to the condition and standard of cleaning.
Of course if, in either of these circumstances, there is a dispute at the end of the tenancy, the evidence will be considered on a case by case basis.
TIP: Remember to arrange a property visit when normal business is resumed.
Q. If the landlord reduces the rent during this period of uncertainty, how does this affect the deposit cap?
A. As long as the arrangement is not permanent; is just a payment holiday with an agreement that the full rent will still be paid, maybe over a longer period of time, the deposit cap would remain the same. In line with the new government guidance, we now also understand that even if this is a permanent change, it may not be necessary to refund the excess deposit, if there is a rent review clause in the contract that allows both a rent reduction or rent increase.
TOP TIP: In the circumstances keep written records for everything.
Q: Can you please give us some information on Coronavirus and our student tenants who want their deposits back as the university has closed and they are going home to their parents.
A. There is a lot of confusion around this, however all tenants need to understand that they did sign a contract for a fixed period of time, and they remain liable for all rent and other terms of the tenancy notwithstanding the current situation we all find ourselves in. They will need to speak to their landlord or agent to discuss any option of ending the contract early.
Q. We always give the tenants the option to be present at the check-out appointment as this helps with negotiating any issues we find. As the current situation means we have removed non-essential face to face contact, how can we protect all parties when it comes to property damage or cleaning at the end of the tenancy?
A. It is quite common for tenants not to be there for the final inspection and, in this current climate, I’d be surprised if they would want to be there with the Government guidelines in place. As many businesses are now closed or working remotely, keep your tenants regularly updated as things change, and consider the following options for making sure you have some check-out evidence:
- – If landlords and agents are, at their own discretion, continuing to work and practising social distancing, then the final inspection may just be a few days later than usual, and of course any appropriate precautions should be taken
- – Consider waiting a few weeks before going to inspect the property if the next tenant is not moving in too shortly afterwards
- – Look to arrange a video call with the tenant on their final day, and walk around the property together. That way you can discuss what you are seeing, and negotiate if necessary. This should be followed up by email to confirm
- – Ask the out-going tenant to take some digitally dated photos of each area in the property, including the garden, and send them to you, but be aware this will only go some of the way towards having a detail of the property on check out.
TIP: Any evidence you can put together with the tenant’s knowledge is better than no evidence; however if you are unable to go into the property, cannot contact the tenant or they’re simply unavailable, then you should seriously consider your position
Q: Can I withhold the deposit for a deep clean following a tenant vacating my property where they have had Covid-19?
A. At the point of negotiating or for adjudication, you will need to provide evidence that the tenant had the illness, such as an email exchange between the landlord/agent and tenant and this will be considered on a case by case basis.
Q. I am a tenant who’s been renting this property for the last 10 months and have just been made redundant. As I cannot pay this month’s rent and have another two months left on the contract, can the landlord just keep the deposit?
A. The deposit should be protected and not used until the end of the tenancy. The Government guidelines suggest the landlord and tenant mutually agree a payment plan for any outstanding amounts. Another option is to come to an agreement with the landlord to end the tenancy early then the deposit can be used against any outstanding rent.
Q. The check-out report has highlighted some issues which we have discussed with our tenant but none of my contractors are available to give me estimates for the work. How can I work out what amount is reasonable to propose to our tenant?
A. It sounds like you have some good evidence if you are at the negotiation stage with your tenant and are looking to compromise on reasonable amounts. While estimates and invoices are good supporting evidence, they are not essential. Once you are clear on the extent of the differences from start to end that the tenant is responsible for, some costs are easier than others to work out. Take cleaning for example, you may know the market rate for a cleaner and can just work out the number of hours needed; the same for a garden. What might be more difficult will be replacement carpet or a new door. If you can get an on-line estimate which shows an item on a like for like basis you can then use our fair wear and tear guide to work out a reasonable amount to propose to the tenant.
Q. I am a tenant who’s had to tell my landlord/agent I cannot pay my rent as I have no work due to the current situation. Can I tell the agent to use the deposit to pay for the next months’ rent?
A. The answer to this depends on whether your landlord/agent agrees to use the deposit which would generally be used to deal with end of tenancy issues such as cleaning, redecoration or damages.
The deposit could be used to cover rent if this is agreed by the landlord/agent but this would mean that if there are issues at the end of the tenancy these will need to be dealt with either through negotiation or potentially the small claims court.
If your deposit is to be used for rent during the tenancy then, at the end of the tenancy I would urge any tenant to make sure the property is left in the same condition as it was handed to you at the beginning of the tenancy so there are no damages or cleaning issues left behind. You can use the inventory or your check-in report to help you return the property to the same condition.
Also the deposit may cover up to a maximum of 5 weeks of rent. Should there be an issue with further rent payments, and you want to stay in the property, you should speak to your landlord/agent and try to agree a payment plan for your rent in the future. Everyone is living through this unprecedented time and we should all try to help each other.
In terms of deposit protection administration, your landlord/ agent should unprotect the deposit if it is agreed between the parties to be used for rent during the tenancy. There will no longer be a deposit for use at the end of the tenancy and the deposit will not need to remain protected with a scheme.
Q: I am a landlord who’s had a request from my tenant to use their deposit in lieu of rent as due to the coronavirus pandemic they are unable to meet their rent. Am I able to agree this?
A: This is a matter for your discretion. If you agree that the deposit can be used in this way, then you should ensure that you have a record of communication between you and your tenant, to reflect this.
In terms of deposit protection administration, you or the agent should unprotect the deposit if it is agreed between the parties to be used for rent during the tenancy.
There will no longer be a deposit for use at the end of the tenancy and the deposit will not need to remain protected with a scheme.
At the end of the tenancy if there are cleaning, damages or re-decoration issues with the property not having been returned in the same state as the check in report or start of tenancy inventory, you would need to negotiate directly with the tenant or potentially use the small claims court.
You may of course choose to agree a payment plan with your tenant either with or without releasing the deposit. Everyone is living through unprecedented times and we should all try to help one another.
Hamilton Fraser, parent company to mydeposits, has created a comprehensive guide, Coronavirus: everything landlords need to know, to help support landlords and agents during this uncertain time.