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Social Housing during the Coronavirus outbreak

 

If my tenant is causing problems what should I do?

You still need to address any issues that your tenant(s) and their families are causing and there are ways of doing this.

First of all, you need evidence of what is happening. Most people can provide a noise recording if it’s a noise complaint or many of our client’s use the Noise App which date and time stamps the recording and allocates it a GPS location. It’s important that the complainant gives you all the information you need to weigh up what has been reported to you. If it’s noise, are they hearing it when their windows are open or is the complainant being unusually quiet themselves to give a ‘false positive’ recording?

Where appropriate, pictures can also be sent to you and diary sheets completed. Ideally these should be sent electronically, but if that is not possible then paper can be used (you may want to consider wiping over any paper to minimise the risk that any infection has managed to live on it at least until we have more defined parameters from the Government on how the infection could be spread).

If there is an issue that is more than just normal living, then you should write to and/or telephone the tenant and have a word with them. This conversation should put the allegations to them and you should make an accurate note of it.

Where appropriate you can still use an Acceptable Behaviour Contract – just post it. If the tenant has limited understanding or ability to read and write, then talk it through with them by phone and encourage them to ring you again so you can go through it again at any time if they are unsure about it.

If that is not successful you can still serve a Notice. The Notice provisions from 29 August 2020 are:

  • Ground 12 only – 6 months
  • Ground 14 only – as soon as it is served,
  • Any 12 and 14 – as soon as it is served as the Ground 14 notice period take priority
  • Ground 17 – 1 month
  • Ground 7A – 1 month or 28 days depending on whether the tenancy is a weekly or monthly tenancy

N.B The above apply unless you have a policy, procedure or tenancy agreement saying that you will provide a minimum period

Possession proceedings are taking the courts some time to process as they now have to deal with the full lists that were all vacated back in April, as well as the claims that have been issued during the stay. The rules on the maximum time period in which a court should list a first hearing (8 weeks) has been abolished.

You can still apply to the court for an Injunction Order, either before or at the same time as applying for possession. Any Application can be e-filed (provided its not more than 30 pages in length) and you should provide the contact details, including current phone number, for the Defendant so that the hearing can take place by way of telephone hearing.

 

When are Bailiff’s Appointments taking place?

Under Lockdown 2.0, there are no more bailiff appointments for eviction taking place. This currently leaves the court bailiffs a window from 2 December until 11 December to carry out evictions (excluding the weekend).

Come 11 December 2020 there is a moratorium on evictions until 11 January 2021. It is therefore unlikely that there will be many evictions until next year.

Where a possession order has been made you could still apply for an injunction if the behaviour continues and then enforce this by way of committal proceedings, sending the tenant to prison for any breaches of the order.   

 

What if my tenant has rent arrears?

You need to follow the pre-action protocol in respect of rent arrears and should try to reach an agreement with your tenant over payment.

If the tenant is in receipt of benefits and these are not being paid directly to you, then you should apply for them to be so. You should also apply for monthly deductions. Whilst this may not be much, or even enough to cover any shortfall between benefits and the current rent, it is something and part of the pre-action protocol.

A Notice Seeking Possession can be served. If the rent arrears are below 6 months’ rent, then you need to give 6 months’ notice. If they are more than 6 months’ then you can give a 1 month notice period.

 

Should I be attending for general repairs?

Repairs and maintenance including statutory safety checks should continue however we are aware that due to the previous lockdown, many social landlords have a massive back log of non-urgent repairs.

Once a repair is reported or spotted by a landlord (or a contractor or agent), the landlord has a “reasonable time” in which to effect a repair.  That repair may be a temporary one depending on the circumstances.  What is  “reasonable time” for repair is given the coronavirus pandemic has not been determined by the courts but we our strongly of the view that it is reasonable for landlords to delay timescales for non-urgent repairs and routine maintenance to take into account their repairs backlogs. 

We would recommend that non urgent repairs and routine maintenance are still raised and booked in but an explanation given to the tenant about time frames as when you anticipate doing the work by with the caveat that the time frame may be extended again due to coronavirus or any other circumstances outside of the landlord’s control.

In respect of your safety checks, these can still continue subject to PHE guidance about working in tenant’s home and protecting workers [https://www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19/homes].  The courts continue to grant injunctions for access to carry out safety checks and property inspections.

Where a tenant or a member of their household is shielding or self-isolation, work and safety checks can still be carried out where there is a direct risk to the safety of the household.  PHE has further guidance on this.

 

What should I do if a fixed term tenancy is expiring?

You still need to follow your policy on deciding whether or not to renew a fixed term. A decision to renew will depend on the tenant’s conduct of the tenancy, affordability and need. If you would normally meet with the tenant(s) then this should be changed to a meeting by telephone or video.

You still need  to consider whether or not you would renew a fixed term tenancy as it is part of your contractual obligations – most tenancies will say that the decision as to whether or not to renew will be taken in the last 6 months of the tenancy. You are likely to also have a policy and procedure on this.

If your intention is to terminate the agreement, you will need to serve a 6-month minded to notice. This has not been altered with all the other fluctuations and changes.

Currently the extended notice period for a s21 notice is set to expire on 31 March 2021. So, any minded to notice will expire after this. It is expected that come 31 March the notice period for a s21 notice will revert to 2 months. If it remains as is, then on the expiry of the minded to notice you will have to serve a s21 notice giving it 6 months to expire. This will mean that the tenant has had 12 months’ notice.

 

How long does it take to terminate an assured shorthold tenancy?

The current notice period on a s21 notice is 6 months.

You can still rely on the grounds for possession which may give you a shorter notice period. This though may give the court a discretion as to whether to make a possession order or suspended possession order and you would not be able to use the accelerated possession rote.

 

If a Torts Notice expires what should I do?

Tradespeople can travel for the purpose of work, so they would be able to clear a house following the expiry of a torts notice. As people can still move house, there is no reason to delay this, though if there is more than one operative working they should do this in a covid safe manner.

As there are no bailiff evictions taking place during this lockdown, and only evictions for serious ASB cases between 2 and 11 December (11 December an amnesty on evictions kicks in until 11 January 2021) you shouldn’t have people being removed from properties and therefore wanting access to recover their goods that they have left behind.

 

How Tozers can help?

For further help and support around social housing during the curent situation then our experienced Housing Management team are available to help and support you.

Contact the team

 

Last updated on 12/11/2020