The Landlord Advice NI service has received lots of calls and messages from landlords who are worried about the coronavirus pandemic. Landlords who need advice can contact Landlord Advice on 028 9024 5640, option 5.
What can I do if a tenant’s income is affected as a result of the coronavirus pandemic?
This crisis is affecting all of us. Many tenants may have lost their jobs or seen a significant reduction in earnings as a result which will make it hard for them to pay rent. Some of the ways that landlords can help affected tenants at this time include:
- reducing the rent for a period of time, if they can afford to do so
- applying for a mortgage holiday and sharing the benefit of this with tenants
- using the deposit to cover the immediate rent and allowing the tenant to build this back up again once their situation improves
- making sure tenants know about the government’s wage relief scheme
- helping tenants to apply for benefits by providing them with tenancy agreements, letters confirming tenancy etc
How does a mortgage holiday work for landlords?
When you request a mortgage holiday, you get a break from paying your mortgage for a fixed period of time. The government has recommended three months as a suitable period.
Your loan will still attract interest during this time and this interest, will be added to your future payments. To collect the missed payments, your lender will either
- extend your mortgage term by the number of months you had as a holiday or
- slightly increase your monthly payments after the holiday for the remainder of the mortgage
Each lender has different policies and procedures in place for approving and managing mortgage holidays. Mortgage holidays taken as a result of coronavirus should not affect your credit rating, but make sure to confirm this with your lender
How can I pass a mortgage holiday on to tenants?
This is up to you, but it’s important to agree in writing any change that will affect the tenancy in the future.
As the missed payments are spread out over the lifetime of the mortgage, the ongoing financial impact to you will depend on your own loan. If, for example, you still have 20 years left to pay your mortgage, the monthly payments will increase by a very small amount, and you may not need to increase your tenant’s rent at all.
You can’t usually increase a tenant’s rent during the term of a written contract so if you are planning to do this, you will need to get the tenants to agree to any change in their tenancy agreement first.
Check out this calculator to see how a mortgage holiday will impact on your future repayments.
Are any changes being made to rates collections to help people deal with this crisis?
Rates bills are going to be issued in June instead of April.
Tenants who were supposed to be moving into my property can’t because of the coronavirus pandemic.
If you had tenants lined up for a property and they have now pulled out, they probably have understandable reasons for doing so. They may no longer be able to afford the rent, or may be sick and unable to move as a result.
Check to see if you can get a mortgage holiday to take some of the financial pressure off while you look for new tenants. You should check to see if you have rental insurance which would cover this type of situation.
My tenants have asked to be released from their tenancy early. What can I do to help?
Many tenants, particularly students whose courses have ended prematurely, may want to leave their rented homes early.
If you can afford to, you could release the tenants from the agreement and treat their final day in the property as the end of the lease. You can still follow normal check out procedures and make reasonable deductions from the deposit for arrears or damage to the property. You should confirm in writing that the tenants have been released from the agreement and have no further contractual liability to pay rent or look after the property.
Some landlords may be worried about letting tenants leave early because they can’t afford to have rental voids. Talk to your insurance to see if your policy includes cover for these circumstances. You can also ask your lender for a mortgage payment holiday.
Can I get any help to cover lost rent payments during this crisis?
Check to see if your lender will give you a mortgage holiday to take some of the pressure off.
If you have tenants in the property, they may be able to apply for Universal Credit or Housing Benefit to help pay the rent. They may also be eligible for the government’s wage relief scheme. Tenants who don't get enough benefits to cover their rent can apply for extra help, called a Discretionary Housing Payment. In certain cases, this will cover all of the rent not paid by benefits for a 13 week period.
Can I ask tenants to leave if I need the property back to self-isolate?
Your tenants still have legal rights to live in their property. If you want them to leave, you must follow the correct legal process, which means sending them notice to quit and then applying to courts for a possession order if the tenant doesn't leave voluntarily.
From 5 May 2020 landlords are required to give tenants a minimum of 12 weeks' notice of the date they have to leave the property.
If a tenant doesn't leave the property voluntarily you must apply to court for a hearing. The courts are not currently listing eviction cases, so it's unlikely that you will be able to lawfully evict a tenant who isn't willing to leave. If you try to evict a tenant without a court order, you could be prosecuted.
What should I do if tenants in my properties are sick or self-isolating?
Make sure that you inform any other tenants in the property or anyone who will need to access the building if any of the occupants is sick or self-isolating.
Some landlords have helped tenants by providing cleaning supplies and essentials, particularly if the tenants are living alone and do not have anyone else to ask for these items.
You should postpone any inspections until the tenant is cleared of the need to isolate. Follow the Public Health Agency’s guidance on when and for how long people should isolate.
How do I deal with repairs during this pandemic?
You may need to change your approach to repairs.
You always need to get permission before you enter a tenanted property. When you are getting this permission, you should also ask if any of the residents in the property is sick or self-isolating. A person should be self-isolating if they have or have been close to a person who has
- a new continuous cough or
- a high temperature or
- recently returned from abroad.
You will need to notify your contractors if anyone is self-isolating or symptomatic. It will be up to the contractor whether to proceed with the repair, but they should abide by the Public Health Agency’s advice.
I can’t get anyone to carry out repairs due to the coronavirus pandemic
Your tenants will need to be sympathetic to the situation if you cannot get anyone to carry out repairs. Even the Housing Executive is only able to carry out emergency repairs at the moment.
If there is an emergency situation, you will still need to deal with this and could face penalty action from the council if you do not.
If you aren’t able to get a qualified tradesperson out to carry out work, try to think of anything else you can do to make the situation better for the tenant. Can you provide alternative accommodation? Can you provide electric heaters or pay the costs of electricity to heat water if the boiler isn’t working?
Make sure you check the Public Health Agency website for up to date information and advice on the virus and what to do if you think you may have it.
The country is now in lockdown. It is essential that you stay at home. Read the government’s advice to find out under what circumstances you can leave your home. You should cancel any viewings scheduled for your properties. You may need to think about releasing tenants from any agreements that were due to take effect in the coming days and weeks as they may not be able to move into their homes, as this type of action is not likely to fall within the government's understanding of essential trips.
Read the advice on how to self-isolate. Remember to stay at least 2 metres (3 steps) away from other people and to wash your hands thoroughly and regularly.