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. Make sure to read the government guidance for private landlords.
Helping tenants who can't afford rent
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 you can help tenants at this time include:
- reducing the rent for a period of time, if you can afford to do so
- using the deposit to cover the immediate rent and allowing the tenant to build this back up again once their situation improves
- helping tenants to apply for benefits by working with Universal Credit and Land & Property Services and giving the tenant any information they need in order to claim benefits.
Dealing with missed rent payments
Encourage existing tenants to apply for Universal Credit or Housing Benefit to help pay the rent. You will need to supply bank details and other information to help with the application process.
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.
The Housing Mediation Service can help landlords reach agreement with tenants on many issues, including dealing with unpaid rent.
Evicting tenants during the pandemic
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. There are no exceptions to this rule. You will have to give 12 weeks notice even if the tenant is behaving anti-socially or you need to live in the property yourself.
You have to go to court if the tenant is still in the property once the notice period ends. Speak to a solicitor if you've served proper notice and your tenant hasn't left. It is against the law to evict a tenant without going to court. It is both a criminal and a civil offence and anyone involved in an illegal eviction could end up with a prison sentence, fines and a court order to compensate the tenant.
Evicting a tenant through the courts
Your solicitor can help you to apply for a court order. It may take some time before you are given a hearing date.
Negotiating with your tenant may be the best option if you have served notice properly and the tenant is refusing to leave. The Housing Mediation Service may be able to help.
Tenants with symptoms
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.
There is a higher risk of coronavirus spreading in HMO properties because different households are sharing facilities. There is no change to the laws or codes of practice surrounding HMO management, but you should make sure that your tenants understand the risks and the importance of good hygiene. You may want to provide extra hygiene equipment, such as sanitiser.
Dealing with 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.
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.
If there is a delay in finding a suitably 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?