Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance for Landlords and Tenants

31 March 2020  |  Admin  |  0 Comments

Guidance from the Ministry of Housing, communities & Local Government for Landlords and Tenants (note these are non-statutory). 

Rent, mortgage payments and possession proceedings

As a tenant, should I stop paying rent during the outbreak?

Tenants should continue to pay rent and abide by all other terms of their tenancy agreement to the best of their ability. The government has a strong package of financial support available to tenants, and where they can pay the rent as normal, they should do. Tenants who are unable to do so should speak to their landlord at the earliest opportunity.

In many if not most cases, the COVID-19 outbreak will not affect tenants’ ability to pay rent. If your ability to pay will be affected, it’s important to have an early conversation with your landlord. Rent levels agreed in your tenancy agreement remain legally due and you should discuss with your landlord if you are in difficulty.

What can I do about rent arrears?

Tenants should continue to pay rent and abide by all other terms of their tenancy agreement to the best of their ability. Tenants who are unable to do so should speak to their landlord at the earliest opportunity.

As part of our national effort to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak it’s important that landlords offer support and understanding to tenants who may start to see their income fluctuate.

An early conversation between landlord and tenant can help both parties to agree a plan if tenants are struggling to pay their rent. This can include reaching a temporary agreement not to seek possession action for a period of time and instead accept a lower level of rent, or agree a plan to pay off arrears at a later date.

Where a landlord does choose to serve notice seeking possession for rent arrears or has done so already, the notice period and any further action will be affected by legislation lengthening the notice period (see Section 1.3) and/or the suspension of possession claims (see Section 2).

If a landlord and tenant agree a plan to pay off arrears at a later date, it is important they both stick to this plan, and that tenants talk to their landlord immediately if they are unable to do so.

If a tenant is worried about being unable to pay their rent, or if landlords become aware of tenants who may be in difficulty, advice is available from specialist providers such Shelter, Citizens Advice and The Money Advice Service.

Local authorities can provide support for tenants to stay in their homes. If you are experiencing financial hardship, you may be able to access new funding; we have already made £500m available to fund households experiencing financial hardship and are determined to take action to support people in need. 8

You can also find more information on Government support for employers and employees here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-toemployers-and-businesses-about-covid-19

If you are worried about being evicted and not having anywhere else to go, you should speak to your local authority.

If you fall into financial difficulties due to a change in your employment or earnings, for example, you may qualify for Universal Credit. Property Guardian licence agreements are a valid tenancy arrangement for receiving housing costs support in Universal Credit. Find more information about Universal Credit at https://www.gov.uk/how-to-claim-universal-credit

The Coronavirus Act 2020 means that landlords who do issue notices seeking possession will not be able to progress any further before the expiry of the notice. All notices for both the private and social rented sector tenancies are for three months.

Regardless of this legislation, where tenants have difficulty paying rent over this period, we ask that landlords do not issue a notice seeking possession, particularly given that the tenant may be sick or facing other hardship due to COVID-19.

During the current period, the Lord Chief Justice has said that applications to suspend warrants of possession should be prioritised, and that judges dealing with any possession claim must have in mind the public health guidance and should not make an order that risks impacting on public health: https://www.judiciary.uk/announcements/coronavirus-covid-19-message-from-thelord-chief-justice-to-judges-in-the-civil-and-family-courts/

Protections for tenants under the Coronavirus Act 2020, in force from 26 March 2020.

The Coronavirus Act 2020 protects most tenants and secure licensees in the private and social rented sectors by putting measures in place that say where landlords do need to issue notices seeking possession, the notice period must be for three months. Landlords can choose to give a longer notice period.

From 27th March, any claims in the system or about to go into the system will be affected by a 90 day suspension of possession hearings and orders (see Section 2).

At the expiry of the three-month notice, a landlord cannot force a tenant to leave their home without a court order. When the three-month notice period expires, a landlord would still need to take court action if the tenant was unable to move. With regard to current proceedings, the Lord Chief Justice has written to the judiciary urging to prioritise applications to suspend warrants of possession and not to make any order that risks impacting on public health.

We strongly advise landlords not to commence or continue eviction proceedings during this challenging time without a very good reason to do so.

As of 27th March proceedings will be suspended for the next 90 days.

For further information about possession proceedings during the Coronavirus outbreak, please see Annex A Technical Guidance.

What can I do about mortgage repayments?

Mortgage lenders have agreed to offer payment holidays of up to three months where this is needed due to Coronavirus-related hardship, including for buy-to-let mortgages. The sum owed remains and mortgages continue to accrue interest during this period.

Where a tenant is unable to pay their rent in full the landlord – if a mortgagor – should discuss this with their lender.

I’m a shared owner, how does this affect me? 

Most shared owners will pay both rent and a mortgage. Like other mortgage holders, shared owners who are struggling to meet their mortgage payments as a result of Covid-19 will be able to request a mortgage payment holiday from their lender. Most shared owners will also be covered by the new Coronavirus Act 2020, meaning their landlords will not be able to start possession proceedings unless they have given shared owners three-month's notice.

Shared owners should continue to meet their financial commitments where possible. The government has introduced a strong package of financial support, so where they can, shared owners should still pay the rent to their landlord and mortgage to their lender as normal. Shared owners who are unable to do so should speak to their landlord and mortgage provider at the earliest opportunity.

As a landlord, should I stop charging rent during the outbreak? 

Landlords are not required to do this. Most tenants will be able to pay rent as normal and should continue to do so, as they will remain liable for the rent during this period. • There is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach, as each tenant’s circumstance is different and some will be worse affected in terms of their ability to pay than others. It is important for landlords to be flexible and have a frank and open conversation with their tenants at the earliest opportunity, to allow both parties to agree a sensible way forward.

 Extending the current ‘pre-action protocol’ on possession proceedings to private landlords

The government is working with the Master of the Rolls to widen the existing ‘preaction protocol’ on possession proceedings for Social Landlords, to include private renters and to strengthen its remit.

This will ensure that private sector landlords reach out to tenants to understand the financial position they are in before taking possession action through the courts once the 3-month delay on issuing eviction proceedings has ended. 

It will encourage landlords and tenants to work together to agree an affordable rent repayment plan if their tenants fall into rent arrears.

I have a licence to occupy, am I protected by the Coronavirus Act?

This legislation only applies to tenants so will not apply to licences to occupy (other than a secure licence under the Housing Act 1985). We are urging the landlords of those on licences to occupy to follow the same guidance and to work with renters who may be facing hardship as a result of the response to COVID-19. For detail on whether licensees will be covered by the announced suspension of possession hearings and orders, see Section 2. If you do not know whether you have a licence or a tenancy you should seek independent advice.

Government has put in place an unprecedented support package to help prevent people getting into financial hardship or rent arrears, including support for business to pay staff salaries, as well as important changes to statutory sick pay and the benefits system. Furthermore, we are offering support for businesses, such as property guardian companies, so that they can support their renters.

I have lost my job which came with accommodation, and they have told me I have to move out. What rights do I have? 

You may be covered by the new legislation depending on the type of tenancy that you hold.

If your place of employment requires you to live-in to be able to do the job, or the occupation of the accommodation is necessary for the performance of your duties, and your contract clearly states this, you are classed as a “service occupier”. This will include some teachers in boarding schools, caretakers, carers and hotel staff, for example. As you do not have a tenancy in this situation you are not covered by this emergency legislation.

If you are not a tenant and your employer wants to end your employment because you are no longer required (rather than due to misconduct) they should tell you at least one week in advance. Check your employment contract as it may set out how 11 much notice you should be given. Your landlord will usually have to apply to the court for a possession order if you do not leave when the notice period expires. Given the extraordinary circumstances, we recommend discussing the issue with your employer and that employers are as flexible and understanding as possible.

If you have a job that offers self-contained accommodation, but it is not a requirement as part of the job and your landlord is not a local authority, you may hold a tenancy regulated by the Housing Act 1988. If so, this will be covered by the change in legislation.

If you’re living in accommodation provided by the local authority, you are an employee of the council, and your contract of employment requires you to live in the accommodation for the better performance of your duties, your tenancy is a nonsecure tenancy under the Housing Act 1985. These new provisions will also not apply to you.

If your local authority employer wants to end your service tenancy because they no longer require your services they must give you at least four weeks’ notice. Check your employment contract as it may set out how much notice you should be given. Your landlord will usually have to apply to the court for a possession order if you do not leave when the notice period expires.

I’m a property guardian, how do I know if I’ve got a licence or a tenancy?

Property guardianship agreements are usually offered on a contractual licence to occupy. The licence will provide the right to occupy premises in return for the payment of a licence fee or performance of a service. In law, a licence usually arises when there is no right to exclusive possession or there is no intention to enter into a legal relationship of landlord and tenant. However, if the licensee has exclusive possession, it may be a tenancy, even if the agreement calls it a licence.

Do I have to move if my landlord does not have a court order?

We are asking landlords not to issue new notices seeking possession, and the suspension of housing possession claims from 27 March 2020 means that existing notices seeking possession cannot progress. If you are a tenant, the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 means that you cannot be forced to leave your home without a court order and warrant for execution of that order. The 1977 Act also protects some people who occupy their home under a licence. Breaches of the Act can give rise to a civil action and be a criminal offence.

Even where the Protection from Eviction Act does not apply a landlord cannot use violence or threat of violence to evict someone.

To download the full Government guidance click here