New guidance on coronavirus and renting

This new government guidance contains important advice on several key areas for housing associations, residents and local authorities. 

This article summarises information in the guidance relating to:

  • Rents, mortgages and possession proceedings.
  • Property access and health and safety. 

You can download the original guidance from the government’s website.

Rents, mortgages and possession proceedings

  • The guidance sets out the government’s view that there is no reason that landlords should not continue to charge rent in the usual way and that residents should pay as usual if they can. It also explains the special protections currently extended to residents. 

  • All possession notices and section 21 notices are now required to give at least three months’ notice before proceedings can begin (rather than, as usual, either two weeks or two months depending on the basis on which possession is sought). 

  • In addition, the court service has suspended all possession proceedings (existing or new) until at least 25 June. These provisions apply to possessions based on antisocial behaviour and domestic violence as much as any other possession. However, judges have been asked to give priority to any application to stay or set aside an existing application for eviction.

  • The pause in possession proceedings, and the enforcement ‘holiday’ for mortgages, applies to shared owners as well as to conventional residents and homeowners.

  • The guidance makes it clear that it is imperative, for reasons of public health, that moving home should be minimised in the current emergency. For housing associations, this means that you should expect to retain residents you currently have even if there are circumstances – such as severe antisocial behaviour – that would normally justify requiring a resident to move. Similarly, where a probationary tenancy has been conducted so badly that it would normally not have been confirmed, the residents should nevertheless be allowed to stay. As should fixed-term tenants whose tenancies expire.

We recognise that some of these emergency provisions will impose significant housing management demands on landlords and have raised this point with the government. 

Property access and health and safety 

  • The guidance recognises that the coronavirus outbreak may prevent routine and obligatory inspections, but reminds landlords that their obligations have not changed. 

  • It urges a pragmatic and common-sense approach from both landlords and residents under the circumstances, and sets out how landlords can comply with safety regulations by demonstrating they have taken reasonable steps to carry out a safety inspection when the inspection doesn’t ultimately take place. 

  • The guidance assures landlords that if they take these steps, they won’t be penalised for not meeting their obligations as a result of coronavirus specifically.

  • In addition, the government provides some examples to residents of emergency repairs they can reasonably expect landlords to still carry out, following government confirmation that emergency repair work is still permitted despite the coronavirus crisis.

We recognise that housing associations will still want additional clarity over the requirement to take ‘reasonable’ steps, particularly in relation to gas and lift safety inspections. We are raising these points and others with MHCLG and the Health and Safety Executive. 

Anti-social behaviour

A consequence of the freeze on possession actions is that, for the time being, tenants cannot be evicted on the grounds of anti-social behaviour or domestic violence. In these unique circumstances, housing associations will have to address the challenge of managing the very small minority of tenants who engage in dangerous, difficult or disruptive behaviour.

For the most serious cases, remedies such as injunctions and Anti-Social Behaviour Orders remain available, at least in principle (although court sittings will be greatly reduced). The NHF has contacted MHCLG, acknowledging that the current emergency requires exceptional measures but also highlighting the impact both on landlords’ housing management and, most importantly, on other tenants. MHCLG has acknowledged the concern but is not yet in a position to consider an alternative approach.