Housing market to remain open – what’s the latest guidance for letting agents

Housing market to remain open – what’s the latest guidance for letting agents

5 November 2020

The Government recognise the value of the property sector and the multiplier effect it has on the economy. This time around, for ‘Lockdown 2’ activities in connection with letting or rental of a residential property have been made exceptions to the “stay at home” guidance under the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 4) Regulations 2020.

Throughout the pandemic the advice from the Government has changed regularly to reflex the measures that have been put in place, the links to the resource below provide some of the latest guidance for the sector:     

As the Prime Ministers announcements were made Robert Jenrick tweeted to confirm that renters and homeowners will be able to move, removal firms and agents can operate and tradespeople will be able to enter homes. He added that all parties must follow the Government’s Covid-19 safety guidance, which was originally published in August.

On October 31, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the details of the second national lockdown which will take place for four weeks between Thursday November 5 and Wednesday December 2.

The lockdown is being introduced to reduce the spread of Covid-19 after a spike in cases and deaths across the country in recent weeks. The Prime Minister said the new restrictions are necessary to prevent a ‘medical and moral disaster’ for the NHS.

Although the rules of ‘Lockdown 2’ are not quite as strict as those set out in the spring, restaurants, pubs, non-essential shops and gyms will all be forced to close.

Schools, universities and colleges will be able to remain open and property professionals will have been pleased to see Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick confirm that the housing market would remain open during the lockdown.

What do agents need to know?

Letting agents, landlords and tenants are required to follow the Government’s rental guidance, as well as its general guidance on moving home during the pandemic.

The rental guidance, which was last updated on September 21, explains how the following processes should be approached in light of Covid-19:

  • Repossessions and evictions
  • Mortgage repayments
  • Health and safety obligations
  • Rent arrears
  • Maintenance and repairs
  • Property inspections

“The Government recognise the value of the property sector and the multiplier effect it has on the economy.”

Following the ban on evictions, which ended in September, landlords must provide tenants with six months’ notice before starting possession proceedings (except for the most serious cases of anti-social behaviour, domestic abuse, false statements and long-term rent arrears).

Landlords seeking an eviction will now also have to provide any relevant information on how their tenant has been affected by the pandemic. You can see the full guidance on evictions here.

Meanwhile, when it comes to repairs and maintenance, the Government states that tenants have the right to a ‘decent, warm and safe’ place to live. It therefore suggests that landlords and agents do all they can to ensure properties are well-maintained, kept in good repair and free from hazards.

It says, however, that all safety inspections and repairs should be carried out in line with public health advice.

The guidance states that clinically vulnerable groups or shielding households can permit landlords or contractors to enter their properties, providing they stay alert and maintain social distancing.

You can see guidance on working safely in people’s homes here and guidance for individuals who were shielding here.

Landlords and agents can enter rental properties to carry out:

  • Essential and non-essential repairs and maintenance
  • Planned maintenance activity inside and outside the property
  • Routine inspections such as annual gas safety checks

When these activities are carried out, social distancing and hygiene procedures such as wearing face coverings and washing hands regularly should be followed.

However, if a household is self-isolating, no work should be carried out unless it is to fix a problem which poses a direct risk to tenants’ safety. Landlords are also able to undertake work on vacant properties to prepare them for a new let.

When it comes to the wider moving home guidance, agents are advised to avoid back-to-back viewings and open houses, as well as encouraging virtual viewings where possible.

When in-person viewings do go ahead, social distancing rules must be followed, while numbers should be kept to a minimum and existing tenants should vacate the property where possible.

It is also advised that doors and windows are opened to reduce contact and increase ventilation, while all parties should wash and sanitise their hands regularly.

Face coverings should be worn inside, and after the viewing, the property should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before the next viewing takes place.

All meetings agents have with consumers should be appointment-only and it is advised that sharing cars is avoided.

The guidance also includes some specific points for letting agents and landlords, which include:

  • Agents and landlords should try to organise inventory clerk appointments before a tenant moves in or after they move out if possible.
  • All properties should be fully prepared for new tenants, including cleaning to minimise any potential spread of Covid-19.
  • Inventory check-ins for new tenancies should be carried out with social distancing in mind.
  • Agents and landlords can continue to carry out Right to Rent checks remotely due to Covid-19.
  • Due to additional risks of moving into a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO), reasonable precautions should be taken.

How could ‘Lockdown 2’ impact the market?

The impact of a second national lockdown on the property market is likely to be less hard-hitting than in the spring. This is because there will be no enforced shutdown of the industry, meaning agents can continue to operate and consumers can continue to move home.

The furlough scheme has been extended which will provide financial security for the hardest hit sectors such as hospitality.

However, a second lockdown will have implications for the economy and people’s personal finances. Despite having support from the Government, many tenants may struggle to pay their rent over the coming months. An update from the BoE Monetary Policy Report – November 2020 highlighted that the unemployment rate is expected to peak in 2021 Q2. 

The latest Bank of England Monetary Policy Report suggests that unemployment will peak in Q2 2021

BoE, Monetary Policy Report – November 2020

Letting agencies and landlords could expect to have to deal with increased rent arrears and therefore need to consider having the necessary protection in place. Rent protection products ensure landlords still get paid while also protecting your management fees during a time when workloads (or the time it takes to carryout management tasks safely) are increased. Providing landlords with the protection they need as part of your management package can also help your business to increase client retention rates.

Now more than ever, landlords will be looking to partner with agencies which can offer an all-in-one package which gives them peace of mind. Here at HomeLet, as we did during the spring lockdown, we will be doing everything we can to help letting agents provide the best service possible during challenging times.

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