Coronavirus and Private Renting - Guidance for Landlords

    The impact of Covid-19 has been felt throughout our society and we recognise that the private rented sector is no different. On this page you will find information on: 

    • Financial Difficulties – How to signpost tenants to appropriate places for help. 
    • Ending tenancies – Using Section 21 or Section 8  
    • Unlawful evictions – A reminder of the law 
    • Property Management – considering Covid –19 restrictions  

    Financial difficulties: 

    The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many people financially, whether they were furloughed or made redundant and this will have had an adverse effect on their ability to keep to their financial commitments, such as bills and rent payments. 

    If your tenants have concerns about their employment or are already in receipt of benefits or Universal Credit, but are still struggling with their finances, they can contact the Citizen’s Advice Bureau for debt and budgeting advice.
     
    Alternatively, you can direct your tenants to use a benefit calculator, such as Entitled To or Turn2us to see if they are eligible for Universal Credit or any other additional benefits in order to maximise their earnings.

    If tenants are entitled to Universal Credit, you can advise them to make a claim online. It will usually take around 5 weeks to receive the first payment, should the application be successful, however, applicants can apply for an advanced payment. Advance payments can be up to 100% of the individual’s claim, but they will need to be repaid. Deductions will be taken from each monthly payment and it will need to be paid back over 12 months.

    The advance payment can be paid back by other means, such as wages or other benefits, should Universal Credit no longer be claimed and the loan is still outstanding. If tenants can no longer afford to pay back the advance payment to Universal Credit they can contact the DWP Debt Management Contact Centre with the following details:

    DWP Debt Management Contact Centre
    Telephone
    : 0800 916 0647
    Relay UK – if you cannot hear or speak on the phone: 18001 then 0800 916 0647
    Textphone: 0800 916 0651
    Calling from abroad: +44 (0)161 904 1233

    Monday to Friday, 8am to 7:30pm
    Saturday, 9am to 4pm 

    Repayments can be delayed for up to 3 months, only in exceptional circumstances.

    If your tenants are in two month’s worth of rent arrears, you can apply for an Alternative Payment Arrangement (APA), which means you can have your tenants housing entitlement paid straight into your bank account. You can fill in an online application for this, called a UC47.

    If you believe the housing entitlement should be paid directly to you, but your tenant is not in two month’s rent arrears, you can check if they meet the requirements for an APA on the GOV.UK website.

    Using the UC47 form, you can also apply for Third Party Deductions. This will take a small sum from your tenants living allowance and send it to you as payment for arrears.

    Ending tenancies

    The government has released new legislation regarding the process to end tenancies, which will be in effect until March 2021. You can see the legislation on the GOV.UK website.

    You are now required to give 6 month’s notice to tenants if you wish to evict them following Section 21, which is the “no fault” method of regaining possession. Landlords being affected by the worst cases can serve a Section 8 Notice for possession of their property with the following notice periods: 

    • Anti-social behaviour – 4 weeks notice 
    • Domestic abuse – 2 to 4 weeks notice 
    • False statement – 2 to 4 weeks notice 
    • Over 6 months accumulated rent arrears – 4 weeks notice 
    • Breach of immigration/’Right to Rent’ rules – 3 month’s notice 

    The stay on possession proceedings was only extended until 20 September 2020 but the courts will be prioritising the more serious cases as mentioned above.  Landlords will also have 10 months from the date of service to action a notice. If you have any queries regarding any legislation, please do not hesitate to contact us at Stafford Borough Council and we will assist in any way we can. View further details of the process that you will have to follow to recover possession.

    Unlawful Evictions:

    With the new legislation regarding notice periods and the current financial uncertainty, there is a concern that there will be a rise in attempted unlawful evictions.  

    The Protection from Eviction Act 1977 makes it an offence to:

    • Unlawfully deprive a residential occupant of all or part of their premises.  
    • Harass occupants by interfering with their peace of comfort in order to either cause the occupier to leave or to prevent them from being able to use their home properly including persistently withdrawing services reasonably required for the occupation.  

    GOV.UK displays the full context of this legislation on their website.

    Offences under this law are dealt with in criminal court and if a person is found guilty, they will have a criminal record and can be fined and/or imprisoned. A person convicted of offences under these laws may also find it difficult to hold a HMO licence, and may be subject to a banning order or have their details included on the “Rogue Landlords Database”

    An unlawfully evicted tenant can also take action themselves in the civil court. This can be for a rent repayment order and/or for damages against landlords. Awards in the civil court can be high in these instances.

    Where a person has been unlawfully evicted, we may be able to assist the person by facilitating re-occupation.

    The majority of private let tenancies can only be ended, other than a mutual agreement by both tenant and landlord, by a court order that is executed by a court appointed bailiff. Unless a landlord has followed the court process and obtained a court order, their tenant has the right to continue to live in the property, free from unreasonable interference.

    If any landlords are experiencing problems with their tenants due to significant rent arrears, they can review the advice at the top of this page relating to financial difficulties.

    If any landlord is having difficulties with their tenants, whether due to rent arrears, constant late or missed payments, property damage, anti-social behaviour or not following covid restrictions they can contact the Housing Solutions Officer, the contact details are at the bottom of this page.

    Property Management

    Despite the pandemic and social distancing rules, landlords are still responsible for essential repairs at their properties. It is understandable that landlords and tenants alike may be nervous about tradespeople attending properties at the moment, but repairs will still need to be carried out.

    There are a few things that you could do, in order to minimise contact and maintain social distancing.  If tenants are in agreement, landlords or tradespeople could attend when the tenant is not home, using an emergency key. Landlords would need to make this suggestion in writing and it would be best to get tenants to sign this and for landlords to keep hold of it.

    Of course, not all tenants will be comfortable with somebody entering their house when they are not home, instead tenants could agree to stay in one part of the home whilst landlords/tradesmen are in the house carrying out repairs. If you are struggling to arrange necessary maintenance and you would like some help mediating with your tenants, you can contact the Housing Solutions Officer.

    Maintaining cleanliness is a top priority now more than ever and it is important that communal areas in HMOs or flats are kept clean. Landlords and their tenants will undoubtedly be worried about the spread of the virus.  All communal areas should be cleaned thoroughly and regularly, including door and window handles, light switches, all surfaces, toilet flush handles, taps and anything else in regular use.

    Where it is not possible for landlords or cleaners to enter properties, as they may be self-isolating or are at greater risk of infection, it is suggested to put up notices in communal areas requesting the tenants to ensure they keep up the regular cleaning of the property.

    More information regarding cleaning of communal areas.

    Landlords may be concerned that their tenants are not following the government guidelines regarding  social distancing and are having too many guests over in their property. If you are concerned that tenants are putting themselves and others at risk, you should speak to them first and address your concerns.  If the problem persists and tenants are continuing to not follow the government guidelines and are engaging in anti-social behaviour, you can contact the council or the police:

    Report possible breaches of coronavirus measures using an interactive map

    More information regarding everything covered above.

    Housing Solutions Officer:
    Glen Newton
    01785 619556
    gnewton@staffordbc.gov.uk

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