We all now know we’re living through incredibly uncertain times. None of us know what the impact of the coronavirus will be in the long term. First and foremost, I hope that you and your loved ones are well.

As a predominantly online business, we are better suited than most with the challenges that the global pandemic is throwing at us, but like everyone else, we need to change and adapt quickly.

With the situation changing daily, like everyone, we are monitoring the news closely to see how the government will work to ensure that the nation’s landlords and tenants are protected during this period.

On 29 March, the government published full advice for Landlords and Tenants. Note that there are still many details haven’t been covered for specific cases, and the government calls for everyone to adopt “a pragmatic, common-sense approach to issues that may arise in the current circumstances”.

“The Government is clear – no renter who has lost income due to coronavirus will be forced out of their home, nor will any landlord face unmanageable debts.
These are extraordinary times and renters and landlords alike are of course worried about paying their rent and mortgage. This is why we are urgently introducing emergency legislation to protect tenants in social and private accommodation from an eviction process being started.”
Robert Jenrick MP, Housing Secretary 

Protect yourself

Most importantly, make sure you are keeping up to date with government advice. Washing hands, working from home, social distancing – all things that you’ve seen in the news that are important changes for all of us.


Protect others

The edict from the government on 23rd March is very, very clear; Stay at home, save lives.

  • Only go outside for food, health reasons or work (where this absolutely cannot be done from home)
  • Stay 2 metres (6ft) away from other people
  • Wash your hands as soon as you get home

If you or anyone in your household are showing any symptoms of coronavirus, then you must self-isolate yourself immediately for the protection of those who are most vulnerable. This is incumbent on all of us to get through this together.


Response times

Our teams are almost exclusively working from home, and whilst this is not unusual for us as a modern technology company, it is exceptional that so many of us are working remotely at the same time.  As a result, our response times could be affected. We are trying to prioritise responding to urgent requests or those from the more vulnerable, so please bear with us if we don’t get back to you quickly.

However, we are still open 24/7, and we’re on hand to help both landlords and tenants as usual.


As I mentioned, circumstances are very fluid, and everyone is trying to keep up and adapt quickly.  Whilst there have been several welcome announcements from the government, not surprisingly, there aren’t necessarily details to cover all scenarios.  In absence of specifics, we hope decision making and issue resolution will be done with a mixture of common sense, empathy and compassion for all.

Throughout this time, we’ll be relentlessly focused on doing everything we can to support you within the changing circumstances.

Click here for advice specific to Tenants

Click here for advice specific to Landlords

Please stay safe and look after each other. 

Calum Brannan
Founder & CEO, Howsy




Advice for Tenants


Problems paying rent

If your circumstances have changed and you are struggling to pay your rent, please let us know immediately.  Don’t wait until after you get into arrears. We will explain the situation to the landlord, and they may give you more time to pay or agree to a repayment plan, although you may be asked to demonstrate that your ability to pay has changed as a result of coronavirus.  A repayment plan means you’ll make smaller payments to your landlord over a longer period of time. You’ll still have to pay everything back – but it could be easier than paying the full amount in one go.

You may also be entitled to benefits to help with housing costs if your income has reduced, even if you’re still working. Whilst there are various groups lobbying for ‘rent holidays’ during the coronavirus crisis, there are no details on any plans to introduce this yet.

It is important to note that your total rent will still be due as normal.  Landlords may be willing to make arrangements with tenants to delay or reduce rent payments but they are currently under no obligation to do so.  Don’t offer to pay more than you can realistically afford – you could make the problem worse if you can’t keep up with your payments.


Evictions

On 18th March, the government announced a ban on evictions

However, the Coronavirus Act that became law on 26 March, doesn’t actually ban evictions, it just extends the statutory notice period from two months to three for most renters.  In effect it means landlords can still serve notice and claim possession at the end of that period.  There may be additional emergency legislation, or the legislation could be extended, but that is unknown at the moment.

The change in law only applies to notices served on or after 26 March. However, for existing possession claims there are likely to be significant delays to hearings as court hearings are also suspended.


Moving out of your property

Legally, you can only end a fixed term tenancy early if either your contract (the ‘AST’) has a break clause or you negotiate an early end to the agreement with your landlord.  Please let us know if you want to negotiate an early termination – your landlord may be sympathetic to your request to leave, but bear in mind that they will need to find new tenants to cover their costs too.   Whilst the government asked mortgage lenders to make provision for mortgage holidays for landlords, they still need to pay that mortgage – it is a deferment, not a cancellation of their mortgage costs.

However, please note that it is now against government guidance to move home. The British Association of Removers (BAR) has instructed members that moves should only be completed if they are already underway, any move that has not yet started, should not go ahead. If your tenancy is due to end soon, please contact us so that we can help negotiate an extension with your landlord if you want to stay where you are.


Inspections and Repairs

In line with government guidance, all inspections and non-urgent repairs are postponed until further notice. We are looking at ways to do some of these inspections and visits via video and will update you when we can.  Landlords still have legal responsibilities to carry out gas safety checks, so they need to go ahead, until there is further guidance from the government. If you are self-isolating, then gas safety checks can be delayed, as long as we have documented the reasons why. Please let us know via email as soon as you enter self-isolation, so that we can ensure the safety of you and any maintenance teams are protected during this time.

Please ensure you practice social distancing if any urgent repairs or legal checks are required at your property during this time.


Working from home

If you are now working from home, make sure you maintain good physical and mental health during this period. Although it is second nature for many, it can be surprisingly challenging, particularly for extended periods. The BBC website has some simple tips which will help.  We can provide short term work from home furniture packages on a monthly basis in the London area for £30 a month, click here to find out more.





Advice for Landlords


Evictions

On 18th March, the government announced that eviction processes are to be suspended for three months, with no possession proceedings taking place during the crisis.  The intention was to give all tenants complete security that if they are unable to work, due to social isolation, lock-down or needing to be at home with children, they are safe in their home and do not have to worry about the risk of an eviction.

However, the Coronavirus Act that became law on 26 March, doesn’t actually ban evictions, it just extends the statutory notice period from two months to three for most renters.  In effect it means landlords can still serve notice and claim possession at the end of that period.  There may be additional emergency legislation, or the legislation could be extended, but that is unknown at the moment.  

The change in law only applies to notices served on or after 26 March. However, for existing possession claims there are likely to be significant delays to hearings as court hearings are currently suspended.

The law applies to all reasons for evictions including, for example anti-social behaviour.  If you have an anti-social tenant, then the best course of action is to keep in close telephone and email contact with your tenants and neighbours during this difficult time.  Try and diffuse any situation as quickly and calmly as you can remotely, especially if the tenant is going to remain in your property. In this situation, it’s best to show constraint and compromise. 


Rent arrears

It is likely that many tenants may find themselves unable to work during this time.  The government has effectively promised to cover the wages of many workers, but again, the details and processes of that are still evolving.  As such, many tenants may find themselves facing difficulties paying rent. 

The government has urged landlords and tenants to work closely whilst the situation unfolds, and should it be necessary, establish an affordable repayment plan when the tenant’s circumstances return to normal.    It is important to be realistic about how this can be managed. Setting a repayment plan that is too high could lead your tenant into long-term financial difficulties which could result in long-term rental arrears for you – simply extending the problem.  Please let us know if you want us to help with any drafting of a rental repayment plan. Similarly, if you do agree a plan directly with a tenant, please inform us.

There are rental guarantee insurances available that still protect you against any missed rent payments, and the government has implemented additional measures – such as mortgage breaks – that can ease your burden.


Protecting your income – rent guarantee insurance

There are a number of rent guarantee insurance products in the market which will cover your rent in the event of rental arrears. Because of the changing situation, the rental protection scheme providers of Howsy’s Rent Guarantee and Guaranteed Rent (as part of our Protect package) have now withdrawn their product to new customers.

You may still be able to find rent guarantee schemes with another provider, but please make sure you check their terms in relation to coronavirus.

You should be aware that any rent guarantee scheme may become redundant with resulting legislative changes, but currently we have no sight of the detail of the legislation. We therefore cannot advise on whether taking up rent guarantee protection is a prudent decision or not.


Mortgage payment holidays

On 18th March the government announced financial support packages including a three-month mortgage holiday for those whose income was impacted by the virus.   From 19th March, mortgage lenders also suspended all possession orders, and will not be starting any new court actions against non-payment of mortgages for 90 days.

For landlords who find themselves with rental income interrupted by tenants who are unable to pay, this could be a real help, allowing a break on either your own personal mortgage, and/or that of your rental property. Be aware that this option may mean your monthly mortgage payment goes up after the payment holiday ends.

You must be up-to-date with mortgage repayments to apply, and be able to prove that your tenant has been directly affected (fallen ill themselves) or indirectly affected (lost their job, financially impacted etc) by the Coronavirus. Contact your individual mortgage provider directly for details of how to implement the break. 

It is worth checking to see if you have insurance that will cover your mortgage payments – for example, mortgage payment protection insurance or through your current account – as this may be more cost effective for you.


Renewals, tenant changes and evolving circumstances

It is likely that many landlords may have already experienced a situation whereby carefully planned tenant changes, a tenant moving out and a new one moving in, have fallen by the wayside. Or some tenants may ask you to end their tenancy early due to changes in their personal situation.  

Please note that it is against government guidance to move home, unless it is absolutely unavoidable. The British Association of Removers (BAR) has instructed members that moves should only be completed if they are already underway, any move that has not yet started, should not go ahead. If your tenancy was due to end soon, or an incoming tenant can now no longer move in, please contact us so that we can help negotiate an extension with your existing tenant if you want them to stay. They may be hugely grateful for the security, and happy to stay in the comfort of a familiar home during these turbulent times. 

For a tenant wanting to end their tenancy early, while you legally could enforce the terms of the tenancy and claim rent for the remaining period, it may be better to negotiate an end to the tenancy with the tenant or arrange a rent holiday with the tenant.  Please show compassion and empathy.


Inspections, repairs and safety checks

As a landlord there are plenty of instances where visiting a property is necessary. Maintenance, mid-tenancy inspections, gas safety checks, for example.  

However, in line with government guidance, all inspections and non-urgent repairs are postponed until further notice. We are looking at ways to do some of these inspections and visits via video and will update you when we can. 

With regards to required checks, such as gas and electrical safety, these are still legal requirements, and there is no change to legislation or specific government guidance.  We suspect that common sense will prevail and there will be compliance flexibility as many landlords are unlikely to be able to carry out checks in time, whether down to availability of tradespeople, tenants self-isolating, enforced lock-down or tenants simply refusing access for fear of being exposed.   If this is the case, we will document any delays why the checks cannot be carried out (if this is the case) and ensure that they are done as soon as reasonably possible when safe to do so. If you arrange these checks yourself, please also document any delays and send to us.

If your tenant reports an essential issue, such as the breakdown of water supply, heating or sanitation, measures will still have to be taken to rectify this issue. Registered tradespeople are likely to be available (they count as “essential services”), although possibly in short supply.  If you are arranging the work to be done, it is important to stress to any tradespeople and your tenant that government advice surrounding social distancing must always be observed. It is likely that these issues will also take longer than normal to resolve, due to demand and possible difficulty in obtaining parts and labour.  We will make sure this is noted in correspondence with tenants, and stress that we are doing all we can during this challenging time.  


Finding tenants and marketing your property

With the government shut down measures announced on 23rd March, the lettings market will inevitably experience a downturn initially, but it is impossible to know what will happen in the medium term.  We are actually still seeing tenant demand for future moves, and historically, uncertain economic environments tends to drive more rentals as people are less likely to buy property.  As a digital technology business that already operates 24/7, we are better able to cope with the shift online.

If you are trying to let a property now, the government directive is clear: there should not be any in-person viewings or house moves.

If you are still looking for tenants for future moves, we recommend doing virtual viewings, for example via a WhatsApp video call, Apple’s Facetime, Skype or other video call technology.  You should also record a video of your property which we can get on your property advert listing. Remember that such a video is part of the marketing of the property and falls within consumer protection legislation. It must not contain false images or omit anything that could be a material consideration for a tenant in deciding to let the property.  You cannot simply ignore things like broken fixtures, damp or mould in such videos. They must be an honest representation of the property and its facilities.

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