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.
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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 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 working with Universal Credit and Land & Property Services and giving the tenant any information they need in order to claim benefits.
If you are struggling with payments, because your tenants aren't paying or because you have your own financial difficulties you can request a mortgage holiday. You can also request a payment holiday to give your tenants some breathing space. This "holiday" is actually a deferral of payments and the payments you missed are added on to your mortgage.
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.
Early release from tenancy agreements
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.
Dealing with missed rent payments
If your property is vacant or your tenants are struggling to pay the rent, speak to your lender to see if you can get a mortgage holiday.
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.
Evicting tenants during the pandemic
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 when the notice runs out.
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. Your solicitor can help you to apply for a court order, but this will take time as courts are not currently dealing with routine matters like ejectment hearings. There is likely to be a backlog of cases once courts reopen. Negotiating with your tenant may be the best option, and it might be worth seeing if a mediation service can help.
You can be prosecuted if you evict a tenant without going to court.
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 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.
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?
Viewings of properties
You should only market properties as available to rent if these are vacant or if the tenants in the properties have issued notice to quit and are preparing to move out.
From 15 June, you can schedule viewings of vacant properties and of properties where the sitting tenants are preparing to move. You can only hold a viewing in a tenanted property with the tenant's permission and government guidance says you should not attempt to encourage or force a sitting tenant to facilitate a viewing if they are uncomfortable doing so .
The onus to ensure a viewing is carried out safely is on the landlord or agent marketing the property. You should ensure that all parties involved are free from symptoms of COVID-19. You must provide access to handwashing facilities and sanitiser and towels that are separate from those used by the property's current occupiers. You must arrange for sanitisation of door handles and surfaces after the viewing.