The government has told letting agents in Tier 4 areas that their first priority must be the safety of their tenants.
The instruction has come in official guidance as to how agents can operate safely in Tier 4 areas, which now cover around 24 million people in England, more than 40 per cent of the population.
Tier 4 rules mean the closure of all non-essential shops, hairdressers, swimming pools and gyms, plus a ‘stay at home’ order to residents.
The government says, overtly in the preamble to the section of the restrictions specifically applied to the lettings sector, that “Tenants’ safety should be letting agents’ and landlords’ first priority.”
And it adds: “Letting agents and landlords should endeavour to work with their tenants to sustain tenancies as far as possible, where the tenant wants to and is able to stay.”
It then sets out the following measures:
- Landlords and letting agents should not conduct viewings in properties where tenants are symptomatic or self-isolating.
- In other cases (such as where tenants have been determined to be clinically extremely vulnerable) where viewings can proceed, they should be conducted in line with the guidance on viewings earlier in this document.
- Any visits to a property must be made in accordance with government’s guidelines on working in other people’s homes and social distancing.
- If possible, necessary repairs, gas and electrical safety checks should be conducted in the period between a property being vacated and a new tenant moving in. If this is not possible and visits are needed to an occupied property, this should be done by appointment with measures put in place to ensure physical contact is minimised, for example with residents staying in another room during the visit.
- Letting agents may also want to consider obtaining landlord and tenant consent for inventory clerk appointments to also occur before a tenant moves in or after a tenant moves out during vacant periods if possible.
- Letting agents and landlords should take steps to ensure any properties are prepared ready for new tenants. This may include cleaning to minimise any potential spread of the coronavirus in line with government advice.
- Letting agents and landlords should consider how best to conduct tenancy check-ins for new tenancies agreed, taking care to follow government advice on social distancing and public health advice to minimise the possible spread of coronavirus.
- Letting agents and landlords are reminded of the temporary COVID-19 measures that adjust right to rent checks, temporarily allowing these checks to be conducted remotely. Lettings agents and landlords should consider other areas where in-person payments, referencing or checks can be conducted remotely instead and take further legal or professional advice if required to implement properly.
- Moves into a house in multiple occupation (HMO) are allowed. However, there may be additional risks involved in moving into an HMO at this time which is why it is important that all involved take reasonable precautions. During viewings, tenants that share an HMO are advised to stay out of indoor common areas, such as kitchens, bathrooms or sittings areas, during a viewing. If it is not a tenant’s own private room that is being viewed they can also remain inside their room with the doors closed.
- Moves into student accommodation are allowed. Letting agents, universities and accommodation providers should consider how best to conduct tenancy check-ins, following the latest public health advice and taking reasonable steps to reduce transmission.