Revised Guidance From the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government on Home Moving: is it Relevant to Private and Social Landlords?

Trinity Housing Law barrister Vilma Vodanovic examines the implications of recently published revised guidance from the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government on home moving from the perspective of private and social landlords:

Following the announcement by the Government on 12th May 2020 that home moves are to resume, specific Government advice was published the next day on home moving during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, see link.  

It addresses the issues relating to people moving between private residential homes in the context of sales but also lettings. It revises some of the Guidance issued to landlords and tenants on 28th March 2020 about property access which I covered more fully in my recent article. Property access was previously not recommended for viewings for sale or lettings but could take place for urgent repairs or compliance with health and safety obligations, which is still the case.

In summary, the Guidance deals largely with the practicalities of: arranging viewings of properties for sale or letting; carrying out valuations, surveys and EPC assessments; tradespeople entering properties to get them ready for sale or letting; engaging removals firms, etc. It gives advice to the public generally and the industry but also contains a section particularly relevant to Private Landlords and a further section relevant to Social Landlords. There are no real surprises; just a few points worthy of note, especially in relation to Social Landlords.

Private Landlords (and Letting Agents)

The points to take away from the particular section addressing private landlords are as follows:

  • The delay in starting evictions in the county court is still in place and there has been no change there. The advice is still to avoid ending tenancies where the tenant wants and is able to stay.
  • This guidance advises landlords on letting out their empty properties or those which the tenants are voluntarily vacating.
  • Viewings should not be conducted where tenants are symptomatic or self-isolating or they are clinically vulnerable and shielding.
  • If viewings are to be conducted, they should be conducted in line with the recommendations set out in the guidance.
  • All other guidelines on working in other peoples homes and social distancing must be observed.
  • If possible, necessary repairs, gas and electrical safety checks should be conducted in the period between a property being vacated and the new tenant moving in. If this is not possible and visits are needed to an occupied property then this should be done by appointment with measures put in place to ensure physical contact is minimised.
  • Previous guidance on gas and electricity safety requirements remains (as explained in previous article summarising that previous guidance).
  • Landlords need to ensure properties are cleaned before new tenants move in, in line with government advice.
  • Landlords need to consider how best to conduct tenancy check-ins for new tenancies, following social distancing rules.
  • Right to rent checks should be conducted remotely, see link here.

Social Landlords

A great deal of the above will apply of course to Social Landlords too but the section gives more specific advice and addresses a number of points:

  • I would have thought that social landlords have already changed practices in terms of how they deal with new lettings but they are now specifically being invited to consider how they can change those practices in line with the wider government advice on social distancing in the workplace, and in particular: property inspections, collecting returned keys, conducting viewings, conducting tenancy sign-ups and preparing homes to be re-let.
  • Before any move is proceeded with, social landlords are being invited to consider providing assistance to those where there might be a level of vulnerability which will require them to discuss with tenants their state of health, level of vulnerability and their arrangements for moving. There is nothing mentioned about policies on this having to be updated; it might be worth though having something in writing as to when this might be considered as an option. It may also be prudent to record any discussions with the tenant about the provision of this  assistance, especially if it was not provided.
  • If a home move is required of a person who is showing symptoms, self-isolating or is shielding because they are vulnerable, further advice can be sought by the Social Landlord from the local Public Health team on appropriate measures to protect the resident.

Right to Buy

The Guidance specifically addresses those eligible tenants (under Part V of the Housing Act 1985) who are proceeding with the Right to Buy process. Again, I would have thought that Councils have already adopted measures to deal with this, but they are now explicitly being advised by the Government to consider measures which will ensure that the process continues within a reasonable timescale, whilst maintaining social distancing rules. The advice is to look particularly at options around valuations of properties, fraud prevention measures, the issuing of documentation and using the discretion provided to them within the legislation.

Members of the Trinity Housing team can assist with enquiries relating to urgent housing disrepair issues, residential possession proceedings during the coronavirus pandemic, interpretation of the Coronavirus Act and associated Guidance for Landlords (including Housing Associations), Tenants and Local Authorities.

The team can also assist with updates regarding on and offline court procedures, including facilities to deal with remote hearings.

In response to the impact of the coronavirus crisis, the 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. Trinity has a dedicated section of the website focused on COVID-19.

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