Landlords – dealing with tenants during the lockdown
Thu 04 Jun 2020
The times remain uncertain and extraordinary, with lockdown measures still in place across the whole of the UK. The First Minister has just published a ‘route map’ which contains a pathway for easing the lockdown. A link to the “route map” document is below:
Progress on the journey through the phases of the “route map” will determine the nature and timing of the return of more normal services in Scotland’s letting. The Scottish Government’s plans will be subject to criteria to move between the various phases, and the Scottish Government has made it clear that the individual Phases will be reversed should that prove justified.
All this means that, for the time being, some form of lockdown and social distancing will remain in place, and also means that landlords will need to continue to adapt to the new normal.
Here, we analyse some of the things landlords need to do to cope in the weeks and months ahead.
This blog is aimed at all landlords generally; landlords with properties managed by Letting Solutions can be comforted that Letting Solutions will aim to ensure that all the official guidance and good practice is observed.There is therefore no need for landlords with such managed properties to concern themselves with the things we list. Generally we do not recommend that landlords make direct contact with tenants, although landlords themselves have responsibilities too.
Communication is key
It’s a worrying time for everyone, with so much uncertainty in the air, which means good communication has taken on added importance.
In normal times, good communication between tenants, landlords and their letting agent is vital, but it’s even more so the case at the moment. In this world of social distancing, face-to-face communication, and visits to your rental property – for, say, a three-monthly inspection or a general check-up – is off the cards. The only reason you or anyone else should be visiting the property is in the case of tradespersons in an emergency.
If a tradesperson has to be called in for emergency repairs or maintenance, they must ensure they are adhering to the government guidelines on entering homes that are not their own.
Much of the time, communication nowadays is achieved through digital means anyway – whether that be a phone call, an email or, increasingly, a message via WhatsApp or even social media.
This is something that can still be done safely at present, and for landlords managing their own properties it’s a good idea to check in with tenants regularly to see how they are getting on, and whether they have any major concerns. They might, for example, be struggling financially as a result of Covid-19 – and you could seek to point them to the support mechanisms currently in place.
Alternatively, if it’s feasible, you may wish to offer a temporary rent reduction to keep your tenants in place – especially if they are long-term, loyal tenants. In unprecedented times, taking a sympathetic, understanding approach is the right path to take, and will be much appreciated by struggling renters.
Even if your tenants aren’t struggling, it’s still nice to check in with them every now and again to show you care about their wellbeing and safety.
Dealing with void periods
This might be a particular problem if you operate in the lucrative student market, with all universities currently closed, and most students returning to their family homes to study remotely from there.
As a result, you could have a property sitting empty for some months that would usually be filled, costing you money as a result as you still need to keep it running.
In these cases, if you are unable to take the financial hit of a temporary void period, you may want to apply for a three-month mortgage payment holiday from your lender – albeit you should consider carefully if this is the right option for you as it does come with possible downsides. Another option is the Scottish Government’s Covid 19 Loan Support scheme although bear in mind that the loan scheme is only open to landlords of five or fewer properties. In addition, landlords can apply for the loan for only one property within their portfolio.
If your property is empty you could seek to boost your reputation in the local community by following others and offering your empty homes to key workers on the frontline of the pandemic, for free or at a heavily reduced rent. Not only would you be helping in the fight against Covid-19, you will also have some very grateful temporary tenants whose word of mouth recommendations might spread far and wide once things have calmed down.
This, in turn, could improve your chances of filling your homes quickly when it is safe to do so.
Turning tenants over
At the present time, this is difficult given house moves are only being permitted if they are deemed essential. Letting Solutions have published guidance on the circumstances in which moves can take place within the rules. These circumstances include key worker moves eg NHS, and where issues of domestic violence, homelessness, and serious illness arise. This guidance is available on request. However, the situation could soon change if lockdown measures start to be eased and rules on social distancing are relaxed more.
For the time being, you should be working on keeping your current tenants happy, safe, and content, increasing the chances of them staying put for longer. Of course, for very many reasons, some tenants want to move rental properties – perhaps for a new job, a bigger home, or because they are buying their own property – but in the current situation it seems more likely that tenants will be eager to stay where they are until the post-lockdown roadmap becomes much clearer.
Again, good communication comes into play here, offering advice and support if needed, or even just a friendly voice on the end of the phone if it happens to be single tenants self-isolating. You may also want to relax your rules on decorating and DIY, if you haven’t been keen on allowing tenants to do this before, as lockdown is the perfect time for a revamp.
Equally, it’s in your interests to encourage the good maintenance of a garden or any outdoor space, with garden makeovers another popular lockdown activity.
Here at Letting Solutions, West Lothian’s first dedicated lettings agency, we are still open for business, albeit strictly in line with all the required rules surrounding the coronavirus epidemic.
Our team are working remotely, covering all aspects of the business, and our hours of business are unchanged, namely: Monday to Friday from 9.15am to 5pm, except on Wednesdays, when we do training and open the phones from 11am to 5pm.
Everyone please take care.
The Letting Solutions’ Team