Covid-19 FAQs for landlords – what can and can’t you currently do?
Wed 11 Nov 2020
Unlike England, where a national lockdown is in place until December 2, or Wales, where a 17-day firebreak recently came to an end, Scotland is currently operating a five-level system of coronavirus restrictions.
The system is based on local authority areas, with the level of restrictions for each council being reviewed on a weekly basis, with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon recently announcing the outcome of the first review of those levels.
The review shows that no part of Scotland is currently under the most severe level four restrictions, with three council areas - Angus, Fife, and Perth and Kinross - being moved up to level three due to concerns over increasing numbers of cases.
West Lothian, the area we operate in at Letting Solutions, has been at level three since the system was introduced and remains there from Friday 13 November. Other level three areas include East Lothian, East Renfrewshire, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Glasgow, Inverclyde, Midlothian, North Ayrshire and North Lanarkshire.
The rules involved with each level are laid out here.
The property market, as is the case south of the border, is remaining open in Scotland during the five-level system. But there are, of course, a number of restrictions and measures landlords and lettings agents need to abide by when creating new tenancies and managing existing ones.
Below, we outline some FAQs to provide further peace of mind.
Can I visit an agent’s office?
Lettings agents are open for business and can continue to support clients in the marketing and management of their properties.
However, the Scottish Government Guidance for businesses and employers must be followed at all times to ensure the office is Covid-safe.
Letting agents should also inform customers and their own staff about their safer working procedures, in order to minimise the public health risk as far as possible. Sgents are advised to use appointment systems for their offices – which means any visit is likely to be on an appointment-only basis.
What about viewings?
The Scottish Government has made a number of recommendations for homes in the private rented sector. Firstly, viewings should not be conducted in properties where tenants are showing symptoms or self-isolating, or in quarantine following arrival into the country.
If there is no alternative, agents can accompany landlords and prospective tenants on physical viewings, but should seek to minimise contact at all times and follow government guidelines on physical distancing and the use of face coverings.
Landlords must also check whether any member of a tenant’s household is showing symptoms, or has been asked to self-isolate, before going ahead with any visits to properties.
If an unaccompanied viewing is being conducted, agents and landlords should make sure that tenants and prospective tenants understand clearly how the viewing should be conducted safely.
Additionally, all parties viewing a property should wash their hands with soap and water or use hand sanitiser immediately after entering the properties, with internal doors opened and surfaces having been wiped down before they enter. Separate towels or paper towels should be used.
It is the landlord’s responsibility to provide these, unless the tenant objects, in which case the tenant must take responsibility.
Appointment systems should be utilised for tenants visiting offices and when conducting viewings, while virtual viewings should be carried out where possible, with physical, in-person viewings only where there is no other alternative.
What are the rules on accessing my property?
Despite the circumstances, your legal rights and obligations where it concerns access to the property – as laid out in the tenancy agreement – still apply. For example, your tenants are only legally compelled to grant access to the property in order to:
· carry out essential repairs to the property
· do an annual gas safety check
· inspect a tenant’s home for any repairs that need to be done
You must still give tenants appropriate notice before visiting the property and you should not enter the property without their consent, except in an emergency. If your tenant refuses you access, you must not enter the property.
Can I carry out repairs and inspections?
You should still make every effort to review and address issues brought to your attention by your tenants, as long as it is reasonable and safe for you to do so, and in line with other Scottish and UK government advice. You should also keep records of your efforts.
Repairs, gas and electrical safety checks and energy performance assessments should, where possible, be conducted in the period between a property being vacated and a new tenant moving in.
As a landlord, you should make every effort to abide by gas safety requirements, but this may be more complicated due to restrictions associated with the coronavirus outbreak. For example, there may be a situation where a tenant has Covid-19 symptoms, or is self-isolating.
In such circumstances, provided the landlord can demonstrate they have taken reasonable steps to comply, they would not be in breach. You can read the latest guidance for landlords and Gas Safe engineers and inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive to understand better your obligations.
Can a tradesperson enter my rental property?
In line with the Scottish Government guidance on business and physical distancing published on June 29, non-essential repairs and maintenance to rented homes are allowed to go ahead, provided that the tradesperson and occupants of the house are well and are not showing coronavirus symptoms. Also, it’s important that there is no-one in the household who is self-isolating.
The government advises that good communication between landlords and tenants, planning, and taking a risk-based approach are all important in this situation.
Landlords, for instance, must be mindful that some tenants may still be vulnerable, and could as a result be anxious about tradespeople coming into their home.
If this is the case, landlords should take reasonable account of these concerns, especially if work needs access to two or more rooms.
As you would expect, any tradesperson entering someone’s home must observe social distancing, use appropriate and proportionate protective equipment, and follow the guidance on sanitation to the letter.
This is just a flavour of the Scottish Government’s guidance for private landlords and letting agents during the pandemic. You can see the full guidance, which focuses on everything from evictions to business support for landlords, by clicking here.
In uncertain times like these, when there is so much to get your head around as a landlord, it’s vital that you partner with an experienced, local letting agent.
Here at Letting Solutions, we are open for business, albeit strictly in line with all the required rules around the Covid crisis. For more information, please see our full page details here.
Don’t hesitate to contact us, even if you are not a current client. You can ring us on 01506 496006 where our team are waiting to help. Or you can email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.