Property Health & Safety, Urgent Works and Possession Proceedings: UK Government Guidance during the Covid-19 pandemic

Over the weekend, MHCLG published consolidated Guidance for Landlords and Renters. This covers three key areas: 

  1. “Measures relating to notices seeking possession as amended by the Coronavirus Act 2020
  2. Court action on possession cases during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak
  3. Property access and health and safety obligations in the context of Coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions”*

For full details and guidance see here but in summary the update deals with Rents, Possession Claims, emergency works, health & safety works and property compliance:  

Rents and Possession

  • Guidance to help landlords & tenants to understand the implications of the Coronavirus Act 2020.
  • Most Landlords will not be permitted to start Possession proceedings unless they have given the Tenant three months notice. 
  • New & existing housing possession claims are suspended for 90 days from the 27th March and it is strongly suggested that new notices of seeking possession are not commenced during this period unless there is a very good reason to do so.
  • Tenants should continue to pay rent wherever the are able to

Property Access and Health & Safety

Guidance here is focused on the principle that: 

“Tenants have a right to a decent, warm and safe place to live – it is in the best interests of both tenants and landlords to ensure that properties are kept in good repair and free from hazards.“*

Gas & Electrical Checks

The guidance is clear that gas and electrical installations should still receive the compliance checks required, however it acknowledges that there may be situations where access is not possible because of the Covid-19 pandemic, or because of a lack of availability of competent contractors to complete the work. 

In these circumstances, it’s vital that access attempts and communication with tenants are fully documented and the situation continuously reviewed. 

Other Property Compliance Checks

“Inspectors or maintenance workers can still visit blocks of flats and multi-occupied properties for essential or urgent work such as inspecting and testing fire alarm and emergency lighting systems.“*

If for any reason compliance is not possible in all cases, landlords should fully document their decisions and keep comprehensive records and correspondence.

In all cases, providers should take a risk based approach when considering their approach and response. And in some cases, where checks cannot take place, we recommend that consideration should be given to the temporary decommissioning of assets until appropriate maintenance checks can take place. (For example, Lifts, fall arrest systems etc). 

Emergency & Urgent Repairs

Tenants are encouraged to let their landlords know of any problems as soon as they know about them, and landlords should take appropriate actions.

“Urgent health and safety issues are those which will affect your tenant’s ability to live safely and maintain their mental and physical health in the property. This could include (but is not limited to):

  • If there is a problem with the fabric of the building, for example the roof is leaking
  • If your boiler is broken, leaving your tenant without heating or hot water
  • If there is a plumbing issue, meaning your tenant does not have washing or toilet facilities
  • If the white goods such as fridge or washing machine have broken, meaning the tenant is unable to wash clothes or store food safely
  • If there is a security-critical problem, such as a broken window or external door
  • If equipment a disabled person relies on requires installation or repair”*

The Regulator

Last week, the Regulator of Social Housing (RSH) wrote to Chief Executives, briefing them on the flexing of the Regulatory regime during the Coronavirus Pandemic. Details and a copy of the letter can be found here. 

The Regulator makes it clear that whilst it will take a pragmatic approach, maintaining tenant safety, compliance with H&S requirements and the completion of emergency repairs must remain a shared priority for the Housing Sector.

In common with the MHCLG Guidance, the RSH is clear that they understand that the pandemic may result in non compliance with statutory requirements and the build up of repair backlogs. If this does happen they have indicated that their response will be proportionate in the circumstances. 

Engagement with the Regulator should occur at the earliest possible opportunity and Registered Providers should keep detailed records, on a property by property basis, of any instances of non-compliance with requirements, including details of correspondence to and from tenants and contractors. 

It is unlikely to be enough to make a blanket policy decision to cease property compliance or emergency work activities without keeping a line by line record that ensures the landlord has a clear view of their compliance position at all times.

We’re offering free advice to any Not for Profit Registered Providers of Housing at this time so do get in touch to have a chat about this article or any other aspect of Property Compliance and Customer & Building Safety. 

Peter Salisbury, Director of Housing Consulting. 30th March 2020

Information is correct at time of publishing

© Manifest Associates Ltd 2020


*Reproduced under UK Open Government Licence