How are a landlord‘s repair obligations effected by Covid-19?
A landlord is under a contractual obligation to carry out repairs to a tenanted property in accordance with the terms of the tenancy agreement. In addition, a landlord has to meet minimum safety requirements for tenanted properties set out in legislation and regulations. However, Covid-19 and lockdown has effected both the ability of landlords to repair and the willingness of tenants to allow access. In this blog we look at how a landlord‘s repair obligations are effected by Covid-19.
If you need legal advice about landlord and tenant repair obligations then the landlord and tenant team at OTS Solicitors can help you and advise on your best options. Call us on 0203 959 9123 or complete our online enquiry form.
Covid-19 and health and safety obligations
The government has produced guidance for landlords and tenants that says that it ‘’has never been more important that landlords and tenants take a pragmatic, common-sense approach to resolving issues’’.
However, where does the guidance leave a landlord who can't get a qualified electrician or a gas safe engineer to visit a tenanted property to carry out annual checks or maintenance? Many landlords have contacted landlord and tenant solicitors asking what they should do, knowing that they are not only in breach of the maintenance and repair obligations in the tenancy agreement but also the minimum legislative health and safety requirements for tenanted properties.
The government guidance acknowledges that with Covid-19 and the current lock down some routine and obligatory inspections cannot be carried out and says that they are recommending a pragmatic approach to enforcement. The government states that this should mean that landlords should not be ‘’unfairly penalised’’ where Covid-19 restrictions prevent them from complying with their statutory obligations but at the same time the government says landlords must not allow dangerous conditions for tenants to continue.
Covid-19 and access to tenanted property
landlords are reporting that tenants don’t want to allow landlords access to tenanted property for the purposes of routine inspections. In the midst of a global pandemic that is so highly infectious that attitude is understandable. However, not being able to carry out routine inspections is causing some anxiety to a few landlords, particularly where previous inspections raised issues. One way to ‘’access’’ a property for inspection or to try and gain more information about the repair issue is for pictures or videos to be sent online.
Government guidance recommends good communication between landlord and tenant so that, even in the absence of a physical inspection, a landlord is informed if repairs are needed so that the landlord and tenant can agree if the repairs aren’t urgent and should wait until the easing of Covid-19 lockdown restrictions or present a danger or risk to the tenant’s safety so action is needed.
What amounts to urgent repairs?
The government has defined an urgent risk to health or safety of the tenant as something that will affect the tenant’s ability to live safely and maintain their mental and physical health in their tenanted home.
Examples of urgent repairs are given as:
A broken boiler leaving the tenant without heating or hot water
A plumbing problem leaving the tenant without toilet or washing facilities
If the tenancy agreement is furnished, a broken fridge or washing machine
A security issue such as a broken window.
If repairs are urgently needed and a contractor can be found there should be discussions between landlord and tenant and contractor over how to minimise the risk of infection, such as the tenant remaining in a separate room to the contractor.
Keeping records of repair communications
It is now more important than ever for landlords to keep records, even if it is just on your phone or laptop or confirming matters with your tenant by text or email.That is because if you can't get a repair carried out it is best to have the evidence that you attempted to meet your obligations in the tenancy agreement through contacting various contractors.
If you can't get urgent repairs carried out straight away it is sensible to record when you made further attempts to get contractors out to the property so there is a written record of your ongoing attempts if there is a later dispute.
Gas and electricity health and safety checks
Most landlords are fully aware of their legal obligations to provide regular gas and electrical safety checks on tenanted property. With ongoing lockdown some landlords are expressing particular concerns about annual deadlines being missed and fear of prosecution for failure to meet the minimum health and safety requirements.
If you have been able to arrange the gas or electrical inspection but providing the tenant with the necessary paperwork is an issue, either because you or the tenant or a member of one of your families is self-isolating, then a copy of the certificate and paperwork sent by email or text may suffice until you are able to provide a hard copy.
The government has said that landlords should make every effort to comply with both electrical and gas safety regulations and if they can't do this then they must demonstrate they have taken all reasonable steps to comply with the law. For example, if your tenant is in a highly vulnerable category and shielding they may not want an electrician or gas safety engineer to come to the property to carry out routine annual checks even if they stay in a different room whilst the contractor is present.
Whether it is because you are not able to find an electrician or gas safety engineer to carry out the inspection or because the tenant is shielding, if you have not complied with health and safety regulations it is vital to document your reasons why, any evidence that the tenant did not want the check to take place or your unsuccessful attempts to employ a contractor. It is also essential to diary up so that an electrician or gas safety engineer can be sent round to the tenanted property when one is available or when the tenant’s period of self-isolation or shielding is at an end.
Record keeping is important as the regulations say that if a landlord has taken ‘’all reasonable steps to comply with their duty under the regulations’’ they are not in breach of the duty. In each case it is a matter of looking at what steps were taken, for example, simply asking your normal gas safety engineer to attend the property and being told they are not working would not count as reasonable steps but contacting a number of engineers to establish that no gas safety registered engineer is able to visit the property would be sufficient (you should keep any replies from contractors) or keep the communication from your tenant about their shielding or self-isolation status.
When it comes to compliance with the health and safety regulations you may also want to evidence that all previous checks have been conducted, that there are no outstanding repairs or, for example, that the boiler is only three years old.
Houses in multiple occupation
If you are a landlord of a Home in Multiple Occupation (HMO) and one of your tenants
thinks they may have Covid-19 then you can't evict the tenant. Equally you are not obliged to find alternative accommodation for the tenants in the HMO who are symptom free. All a landlord can do is ensure that tenants follow the government public heath advice in the same way as any other UK household, including advice on self-isolation within households.
If you are unsure of your repair obligations and need legal advice about landlord and tenant repair obligations or have questions about tenancy agreements then the landlord and tenant team at OTS Solicitors can help you find a solution. Call us on 0203 959 9123 or complete our online enquiry form.