News

Housing Barrister Summary of COVID-19 Guidance for Landlords, Tenants & Local Authorities


On 28th March 2020, the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government issued Non-statutory guidance for landlords, tenants and local authorities in the private and social rented sectors in the context of Coronavirus (COVID-19) and with the purpose of better understanding the implications of the Coronavirus Act 2020.

Trinity Housing law barrister, Vilma Vodanovic, summarises the key features of the Guidance. 

This short article follows our ongoing and up to date coverage of the new measures adopted in the Housing sector - see articles by Tom Tyson (Residential Possession proceedings – the Story so far and Residential and Lettings & the Coronavirus Bill) and Alice Richardson (Civil Listing Priorities & Housing Cases During the COVID-19 Crisis).

The Guidance that has been published is non-statutory so it means it is a recommendation only and need not be followed. BUT it provides potential answers to questions many will have at this difficult time, seeking to inform the parties how to behave and what to expect from each other. It could also be very persuasive within Court proceedings dealing with a conflict between the parties either now (if the matter still ends up at Court on an urgent hearing) or further down the line when normal Court action resumes and there are potential issues over partiesconduct.

Three separate documents have been published and they seem to consolidate all the measures which have been put into place over the last week or two, such as suspension of possession proceedings and the extension of notice periods (covered by Tom Tyson already), but also give some useful guidance on the carrying out of repairs, access, enforcement and so on.

  1. Guidance for Landlords and Tenants -

The full guidance can be found here.

 Highlights:

  • landlords should not stop charging rent during this period but should be flexible;
  • rent should continue to be paid by tenants;
  • tenants are advised on what to do in cases of inability to pay rent;
  • landlords are asked not to issue notices seeking possession where there are difficulties in paying rent, regardless of the legislation (extending all notices to three months);
  • guidance is given to those who do not have tenancies but licences instead.

There is a particular section on the issues of property access and health and safety obligations where they might be affected by COVID-19 related restrictions. These are some of the recommendations:

  • landlords repairing and other obligations relating to housing conditions continue;
  • a pragmatic approach to enforcement is to be adopted by local authorities where landlords have failed to remedy serious hazards in properties;
  • landlords should not be unfairly penalised where they are prevented from meeting some routine obligations;
  • pragmatic, common-sense approaches are to be adopted to non-urgent issues;
  • where reasonable, access should be allowed by tenants for inspection or remedying of urgent health and safety issues (some examples are given in the Guidance);
  • it is suggested viewings for sale or letting are not serious or urgent issues so access is not recommended;
  • landlords should continue to comply with their obligations in relation to gas safety inspections and should also seek to comply with new legislation in force from 1st July 2020 relating to electrical safety inspections for all new tenancies from that date; reasonable steps should be taken to comply with these duties; recording of communications is key.

2. Guidance for Local Authorities -

The full guidance can be found here.

This Guidance is only intended to provide a recommended approach and there is no requirement to have regard to it (not issued under section 9 of the Housing Act 2004). It deals mainly with enforcement issues.

The main recommendations are:

  • Ensuring local authoritiesown enforcement policies are up to date, taking into account the current situation.
  • Taking a pragmatic approach to enforcement that ensures tenants are kept safe and landlords are supported.
  • Ensuring all work is carried out in line with local authoritiesown health and safety policies and procedures.
  • Basing all decisions on an assessment of risk.

Part 3 of this Guidance makes it clear that local authorities will have to amend and update their policy wording on enforcement, including details about inspections and investigations. Their health and safety policies will need to be amended too, to cover their officers carrying out inspections and visits during this period. Whilst not specifically mentioned, it is likely this will require a consideration of the risk to the tenant/occupant also. There will then need to be a weighing of up of those health and safety risks with the seriousness of the hazards that exist in the property as to whether access should be allowed and how the inspection should proceed, but also then how the works will be carried out. Written records will most likely need to be kept of all of these risk assessments.

Landlords are advised to take enforcement action only where necessary.

There is further guidance about proactive and reactive work and supporting landlords and tenants,  mandatory and selective licensing of Houses in Multiple Occupation, as well as enforcement of unlawful evictions and gas and electrical safety licensing.

3. Technical guidance on Eviction Notices -

The full guidance can be found here

The main message from this Guidance:

We strongly advise landlords not to commence or continue possession proceedings during this challenging time without a very good reason to do so. It is essential that we work together during these unprecedented times to keep each other safe.

The remainder contains guidance on the forms to use for various notices (with links to the amended forms) and a very useful summary of the circumstances in which a section 21 notice cannot be served.

In response to the escalating coronavirus crisis, Vilma, other barristers in Chambers' Housing law team and staff are committed to providing as much assistance as possible, including urgent advice, online resources and other support, during these challenging and unprecedented times, as such Trinity have a dedicated section of the website focused on COVID-19.

Media Contact

Chris Lucarelli

Tel 0191 232 1927
Email Chris Lucarelli