As we continue in times of uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is clear there is undoubtedly extra pressure on residential landlords. The private lettings market always requires those involved to be on their toes in order to keep up with the ever-changing nature of the law in this area. During the current pandemic, this is true now more than ever. We provide below a bitesize guide to the additional obligations and considerations that landlords in this sector owe at this time.
To start with the area that has been most drastically affected by the pandemic, residential possession. Our recent articles on the Coronavirus Act 2020 (“the CV Act”) explains in detail the changes affecting possession. We revisit the salient points here:-
- The CV Act provisions are in force from 26 March 2020 to 30 September 2020 but could be extended.
- Most notice periods applicable to residential possession will have to provide for a minimum of three months before the landlord may commence proceedings.
- The landlord must use prescribed forms of Section 21 or 8 notices, which are different to the usual prescribed forms in light of the CV Act.
- Active possession claims are stayed for a period of 90 days from 27 March 2020.
If you are a landlord seeking possession at this time, we would urge you to seek advice to ensure the correct notice is being served. We do expect delays once the Courts stir back into action on this front and having to reserve incorrect notices would be less than ideal!
New Electricity Checks
The next point is in regards to the Electrical Safety Standards in the Private Residential Sector (England) Regulations 2020 (“the ESR”) which come into force on 1 June 2020. Whilst the ESR has been on the horizon for a while, it is not borne out of the pandemic. It is, however, affected by it. Again, the points to note are:-
- The ESR applies to new tenancies from 1 July 2020 and to all tenancies from 1 April 2021.
- Landlord must have a qualified person test whether electrical installations comply with safety standards.
- The first test must be done before a tenancy starts, or by 1 April 2021 if the tenancy is already in place. Thereafter, tests must be done every 5 years.
- If remedial work is required, this must be done within 28 days of inspection, otherwise there could be a penalty of up to £30,000.
The last point is the one that will likely panic a lot of landlord, particularly at a time when the world is observing social distancing. It seems, though, that the pandemic will not provide landlords with a justifiable reason for non-compliance.
Gas Safety Checks
A quick point to note, leading on from the above, is that landlords are likely also having trouble carrying out gas safety checks during the pandemic. The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 do provide that if landlords can demonstrate they have taken reasonable steps to comply with their obligations, then they may be able to avoid enforcement. We would suggest that detailed written records are kept in this instance.
Right to Rent checks
Some of you may have followed the recent Court of Appeal decision (R (on the application of joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 542). If not, in brief, it was confirmed that despite concerns right to rent checks were contrary to the Human Rights Act 1998, they are not discriminatory.
Landlords must carry out checks on the immigration status of occupants over 18, where the property will be their main home – whether they are named on the agreement or not. These checks must be carried out even during the pandemic, the Home Office suggests using electronic document exchanges and video calls.
Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards (MEES)
The provision of an EPC with a rating of at least an E has become an essential part of the new lettings. However, as of 1 April 2020, existing lettings with a sub-standard rating now become prohibited. We highlight some points to be aware of:-
- Landlords can carry out works to make them up to standard if they are not currently.
- There are limited exceptions to the rules, one being, that the landlord has made all relevant energy efficiency improvements, but the property still remains sub-standard.
- If a sub-standard property continues to be let on or after 1 April 2020 (without a valid exemption) a landlord could face enforcement action.
The MEES regulations remain in force throughout the pandemic.