Coronavirus (COVID 19): information and guidance for tenants

On 13 May 2020 the government announced that it was easing the lockdown for the housing market and home moves. Lettings and sales are now allowed to go ahead but this is not a return to normality. The country is coming out of the lockdown in stages but coronavirus is still in the community, restrictions are in place and social distancing should be maintained.

The situation is changing daily and we are aware that you may be feeling concerned, we have therefore produced some frequently asked questions which we hope will help.

Get information on the coronavirus

You can read the latest information on the UK coronavirus situation at gov.uk

Visit the NHS coronavirus web page for information on: 

  • symptoms
  • how to protect yourself
  • what to do if you think you might have coronavirus

Changes to the housing market, home moves, letting and sales

The process of finding, moving and landlord maintenance of a property will be different. The government has made it clear that, “tenants’ safety should be letting agents’ and landlords’ first priority”. It has produced guidance and also supported the industry in developing guidelines for both consumers and property professionals on safe home moves.

This guidance has been put in place to help prevent the further spread of the virus and the possibility of stricter lockdown measures having to be reintroduced.

In addition to the above all businesses, including landlords, letting and managing agents, should have carried out a health and safety risk assessment, with particular regard to Covid-19, and developed and implemented a safe way of working.

Should you allow your landlord to visit and have access to the property

Now that housing market restrictions have been eased your landlord or managing agent may need to access the property to carry out work.

Landlords do not have an automatic right to enter a property if you have an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) but check your contract as there is usually a term which allows access (e.g. for viewings or repairs). If you live in a house in multiple occupation, renting an individual room or bedsit, the landlord could be entitled to access common parts.

Government guidance advises that the landlord should contact you beforehand to check the health of you and anyone you share with and pre-arrange a suitable time to visit or carry out work. This includes following guidance about social distancing and working safely in someone’s home.

How they do things should be arranged to protect your health and safety. You and other tenants are advised to share information about your circumstances and any concerns you have with your landlord. It is important that they are aware if anyone in the house is clinically vulnerable, shielding or has Covid-19 symptoms and is self-isolating.  The landlord and or managing agents will have to adapt what and how they do things depending on your circumstances.

If you have the virus and are self-isolating you should not have any visitors in your home, including your landlord, for at least 7 days from the onset of symptoms. You and your landlord, and the people you live with, should follow public health guidance (see links to NHS advice above) and arrange access at a later date.

Repairs that you need in your home may still go ahead

All repair work can take place where tenants are not shielding or self-isolating. The guidance encourages tenants to let landlords know of any problems with the property and for landlords to take appropriate action.

Where work is needed it should be carried out following the guidance and new ways of working which help prevent further spread of the virus. It should be done by agreement and preferably when tenants are not present and/or near the area where work and social distancing and hygiene guidelines need to be followed.  

Essential work should take a priority. Examples of this would be would work to fix an electricity or gas cut off, a severe water leak, suspected gas leak or emergency works to make your home safe and secure. Repairs in households where people are shielding or self-isolating should only be carried out if necessary to remedy a direct risk to the safety of the tenants and in these cases face to face contact should be avoided and careful cleaning hygiene precautions taken.

For detailed guidance about how work should be carried out in the home by contractors read: Working safely during coronavirus (COVID-19).

Should you give access if your landlord wants to carry out gas and electrical inspections

The updated guidance says that landlords are still expected to carry out safety checks when they are due. Where it is not possible to do it in time they must keep a record stating the reasons why.

Annual gas safety inspections are a very important legal requirement as the check is to ensure that boilers are operating safely. If you smell gas and/or there are any other signs that your boiler is faulty report it immediately. You are advised to allow access for these checks but see above if self-isolating or shielding.

There is also a new requirement about electrical installations in rented properties that comes into force on 1 July 2020 for all new tenancies and 1 April 2012 for existing tenancies. It requires landlords to ensure that any electrical installation is safe before a tenancy begins and throughout its duration. Tenants should also be provided with a copy of the electrical safety report.

You can complain to the Council if your landlord won’t deal with your repairs

The Council is continuing to provide a complaint response service to tenants during this period. This is as part of our commitment to ensure all tenants have a safe place to live. 

Landlords should be acting on requests for repairs though it is accepted that there may be limitations or delays in how and when this can be done. This will depend on the health status of tenants and to ensure that contractors are operating in a safe way.  Where necessary the Council will still take enforcement action if a landlord fails to carry out essential works.

If you landlord refuses to carry out necessary repairs, you can contact the Private Sector Housing team on 020 7974 2543 or email: hmolicensing@camden.gov.uk

Your landlord may be allowed to show new people around the property 

Restrictions on moving have now been lifted and landlords can let vacant properties and/or rooms. This  should be done in agreement with existing tenants prioritising their health and safety.

Physical viewings should not take place in properties where tenants either have symptoms, are self-isolating, clinically vulnerable or shielding.

If this does not apply, viewings can take place but virtual viewings are recommended in the first instance and the landlord may need to access the property to create a video. Any physical viewings should be kept to a minimum and preferably the tenants should not be there. Viewings should be by appointment only with prospective tenants from single household visiting, and for a limited time.

When the landlord/agent is at the property they should follow safe working procedures.   
See Industry Guidance: Re-opening the Home Moving Market Safely

If your landlord is not cleaning the common parts of buildings that you share with other residents

In some houses in multiple occupation, the landlord is responsible for cleaning the shared areas such as kitchens, bathrooms, hallways/stairs etc. If these areas are the landlord’s responsibility, then these should continue to be cleaned.

Landlords should ensure cleaners are following government guidance and wearing protective clothing such as disposable gloves and aprons.

It is very important that regular cleaning still takes place.

How to protect yourself in a shared house or flat

It is good practice to try maintain social distancing and minimise interaction with others, including others who you share a home with. Everyone in the household should regularly wash their hands, avoid touching their face and clean frequently touched surfaces.

In shared flats or houses this can be challenging. You should minimise the time you spend in shared spaces such as kitchens, bathrooms and sitting areas as much as possible and keep shared spaces well ventilated. Ensure regular cleaning of shared spaces, including all surfaces.

Follow the government guidance and read NHS advice on how to stop germs spreading.

What to do if someone in your house or flat has coronavirus

Updated government guidance for landlords and tenants makes it clear that the previous general guidance issued to a household with possible coronavirus applies to tenants of shared properties, see following:

Please refer to this guidance if you live with a vulnerable person or someone who might have coronavirus.

Wherever possible if this is the case you should separate yourself from other people in your household.

If you share a toilet and/or bathroom, it is important that you clean them after you have used them every time. For example you should wipe surfaces you have come in contact with. You could consider drawing up a rota for showering/bathing, with the tenant self-isolating using the facilities last. Then they should thoroughly clean the shower, bath, sink and toilet.

If you share a kitchen with others, avoid using it whilst others are present. Take your meals back to your room to eat. If you have one, use a dishwasher to clean and dry your used crockery and cutlery. If this is not possible, wash them using your usual washing up liquid and warm water and dry them thoroughly, remembering to use a separate tea towel.

You should only use your own toothbrush, and use separate eating and drinking utensils. This includes cups and glasses in the bathroom and bedroom, dishes, drinks, towels, washcloths and bedlinen. You should not share these items with other members of your household. Make sure that you thoroughly clean the area you have used with an anti-bacterial cleaning fluid.

If you are struggling to pay rent because of coronavirus

Speak to your landlord if you're struggling to pay rent. They could be sympathetic especially if you've lost your job or seen your income reduce suddenly. They might agree to a rent reduction or accept a late payment to your rent. Get any agreement in writing.

Buy-to-let landlords may get mortgage payment holidays if their tenants have financial problems due to coronavirus.  

If you are earning less, worried about paying your rent, mortgage or bills, or have other financial concerns as a result of the coronavirus, please contact the Council. We can discuss what support might be available through our discretionary housing payment and our welfare assistance fund.

Shelter and Citizens’ Advice also have good advice on their websites about how to deal with rent arrears and claiming benefits.

If you are still able to afford your rent it’s best to continue to pay to avoid building up arrears.

Your landlord cannot evict you straight away as a result of coronavirus

Illegal eviction is a criminal offence – coronavirus does not change this. 

It is illegal for your landlord to evict you without following the proper steps.

If you are an assured shorthold tenant, your landlord cannot:

  • make you leave without giving you 3 months’ notice 
  • when notice expires, your landlord must go to court to get a court order
  • you still do not have to leave the property after the court order expires 
  • your landlord will have to return to court to get a bailiff warrant before they can evict you
  • you must immediately contact the council if your landlord locks you out of your home, even temporarily.

It is important to note that even if your landlord has given you what they call a ‘licence’ agreement you may still have the rights of a tenant depending on your living arrangements at the property. Please contact the council for further advice on this matter.

If you are a lodger, and live in the same house or flat as your landlord, you do not have the same rights. If you have a written agreement, then your landlord should only give you notice as stated in the agreement. If you do not have an agreement, then the landlord only has to give you reasonable notice (usually 2-4 weeks).

If you have already had notice from your landlord

All court actions for eviction have been put on hold and the date has recently been extended from 25 June until 23 August. Under the current legislation, most landlords will not be able to start possession proceedings unless they have given their tenants three months’ notice. This means that landlords cannot evict their tenants whilst this national emergency is taking place.

Get more information on protection from eviction during this national emergency from gov.uk or contact the housing charity Shelter.

If you are homeless or threatened with homelessness 

Please read this information and advice if you are homeless or threatened with homelessness during this period.

Who to contact if your landlord is telling you to leave now or harassing you

You can contact the private sector housing team on 0207 974 2543 (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm) or email hmolicensing@camden.gov.uk. Or housing advice on 0207 974 5801 (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm). You can also contact the police on either 999 (if you are being physically threatened) or 101. They should respond to illegal evictions.

Additional advice is available from these organisations:

Camden Federation of Private Tenants
Shelter
Citizens Advice
Generation Rent
London Renters Union
COVID-19 and renting: Government guidance for landlords, tenants and local authorities

Coronavirus (COVID-19): information and guidance for landlords

The private sector housing team recognise and appreciate the uncertainty you may be experiencing during this time. You will be aware the situation is changing daily and we will continue to refer to guidance from the Government.

Find the latest information on the UK coronavirus situation on the gov.uk website.

For information on symptoms, how to protect yourself, and what to do if you think you might have coronavirus, visit the NHS coronavirus web page.

We have reviewed some of our procedures in light of official government guidance. We have also produced some frequently asked questions to help answer your concerns:

You still need to apply for an HMO licence

It is important to still apply for an HMO licence as it remains a criminal offence not to and could lead to an unlimited fine upon conviction or the issuing of a civil penalty notice of up to £30,000. In addition, tenants can apply for a rent repayment order (RRO). To apply for a licence, and find out more details about HMO licensing, including RROs, please visit camden.gov.uk/hmolicensing.

Applying for a temporary exemption notice (TEN)

A TEN is only issued for a short period (three months) when a property is actively being taken out of being licensable e.g. it is on the market to be sold or the owner is moving back in. 

Officer inspections and the coronavirus

During this time inspections will not be taking place. We will instead issue licences based on the information provided with the application. If needed, we will contact you for further information by phone or email. We may also contact your tenants. A future compliance inspection will be carried out to all properties with a licence issued in this manner, when information will be checked and works required on the licence should have been completed. If the inspection finds that the property or the way the property is occupied differs to the information supplied, the licence may have to be varied. This may include an alteration to the permitted number once we have undertaken a measurement of room sizes

The schedule of work which forms parts of the HMO licence is based on the Council’s HMO standards which you should read and familiarise yourself with.

You still need to carry out essential works to your property

Landlords or their agents should still be accessible to tenants by telephone or email.
Essential works will still need to be addressed as these might seriously affect the health and safety of your tenants. These include remedying problems with water supply, safe electricity and gas supplies, fire safety, drainage, heating and hot water, pest control, leaks and works to windows and doors that may affect security. If tenants are self-isolating, please see advice below.

Landlords, their representatives and tradespeople are expected to follow advice on social distancing (also known as physical distancing).

The Council is continuing to provide a complaint response service to tenants during this period as part of our commitment to ensure all tenants have a safe place to live. Where necessary the Council will still take enforcement action if a landlord fails to carry out essential works.

How you can make sure the contractors you use follow official government guidance

Each company offering services will have to carry out its’ own risk assessment in terms of protecting the health and safety of their employees and any members of the public. 

You should ask to see the risk assessment when you choose a contractor. It is important the risk assessment is up to date with information about how the contractor will protect their employees and residents and help reduce the spread of coronavirus.

Flexibility on HMO licence deadlines

If you are experiencing difficulties as a result of coronavirus, please contact us as soon as possible. We will look at each licence on a case by case basis .Please document any communication with your tenants and contractors so we can assess the situation fully.

There may be circumstances where we will consider other means of reducing the risk of a hazard in the property on a temporary basis. You should seek advice from the officer who issued the licence before carrying out any alternative works.

You should still make sure the common parts of your HMOs are clean

In some houses in multiple occupation (including houses converted to self-contained flats), the landlord is responsible for cleaning the shared areas such as kitchens, bathrooms, hallways/stairs etc. If these areas are the landlord’s responsibility, then these should continue to be cleaned. 

You should ensure your cleaners or the company you use has carried out an up to date health and safety risk assessment. It would be sensible to treat all areas as potentially having been in contact with a confirmed coronavirus case, and so protective clothing such as disposable gloves and apron should be worn. Hands should be washed with soap and water after all protective clothing has been removed. Where a higher level of contamination may have been present (for example, where unwell individuals have slept) additional protective equipment such as a surgical face mask and full-face visor should be considered.

Follow NHS advice on how to stop germs spreading.

In some cases, tenants may not feel comfortable with cleaners coming into the property. In such cases you should speak to all the residents to see if you can agree on alternative arrangements, at the same time ensuring that cleaning does take place in accordance with government and NHS guidance.

What to do if your tenant is self-isolating

Any tenants self-isolating are advised to avoid any visitors, and in these circumstances we advise you to keep a dialogue going with your tenant. 

However, essential works will still need to be addressed as these might seriously affect the health and safety of your tenants. These include remedying problems with water supply, safe electricity and gas supplies, fire safety, drainage, heating and hot water, pest control, leaks and works to windows and doors that may affect security.

In these circumstances you and your contractors must take the precautions needed (i.e. full protective clothing) to keep everyone safe. Please follow the official government guidance around social distancing. 

If the tenant is older or vulnerable

If your tenant is 70 or older, under 70 with an underlying health condition, or pregnant they are at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus and will be following strict social distancing measures. Only essential works should be carried out, for example remedying problems with water supply, safe electricity and gas supplies, fire safety, drainage, heating and hot water, pest control, leaks and works to windows and doors that may affect security. In these circumstances Please follow the official government guidance around social distancing. 

In order to reduce social contact, inspections and non-essential repairs and maintenance should not be taking place during this period.

What you can do if your tenant is not paying their rent

The government has brought in emergency legislation which essentially suspends evictions from private rented accommodation while this national emergency is taking place. 

We urge all landlords to work with their tenants to reach an agreement in terms of paying rent if they are experiencing difficulty because of the coronavirus. The Council is providing support for tenants to ensure they do not suffer from evictions nor harassment during these difficult times. A separate FAQ has been provided for tenants in terms of accessing support and advice - and who to complain to if they have problems.

The Council takes this matter most seriously and it should be noted that any person(s) convicted of illegal eviction or harassment may be liable for up to 2 years imprisonment. 

Get more information on the protection for tenants on the gov.uk website and on this landlord news page.

How to afford the licence fee or the works if you are not receiving any rent

The government has announced financial support for businesses. The Council website has further information on financial support available.  You can get information on this financial support from the gov.uk website

The government has also extended the three month mortgage payment holiday to ‘buy to let’ mortgages.

If you have appealed to the First-Tier Tribunal (FTT)

Any landlords with existing appeals to the FTT should have been contacted directly by the tribunal. However, the following advice was issued on 19 March 2020:
(1)    All listed hearing dates and mediations for cases proceeding in the London Region of the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) Residential Property are hereby postponed until after 29 May 2020.  
(2)    Where parties can continue to comply with existing directions in current cases, they should seek to do so and co-operate with each other for this purpose.  Save to that extent, all current directions on existing cases are suspended until after 29 May 2020.  Thereafter, the tribunal will aim to issue fresh directions, unless circumstances prevent this happening.

Additional advice is available from these organisations:

NHS UK
GOV.UK
Guidance for social distancing and for vulnerable people
National Residential Landlord Association (NRLA)
Private Sector Housing Enforcement Policy 
COVID-19 and renting: Government guidance for landlords, tenants and local authorities