COVID-19: Property access guidance for landlords and tenants

31 March 2020

On Saturday, the government issued non-statutory guidance to landlords and tenants in relation to Covid-19. The guidance is divided into three parts: the first deals with the changes in notice periods for tenants under leases; the second with the suspension of possession claims; and the third looks at "property access and health and safety obligations".

The first two sections can be read in conjunction with our earlier articles here and here.

The third section provides guidance to landlords and tenants in finding ways to carry out their leasehold obligations to repair and provide access during the current period of restricted movement without compromising the health and safety of those involved in the process. The recurring theme of the guidance is pragmatism, and that landlords and tenants must work together. The guidance reminds landlords and tenants that their obligations under the lease remain, but that a common sense view should be taken when dealing with issues which arise. In terms of repairs, the guidance confirms that urgent repairs, such as a broken boiler, would still need attending to. However, the guidance does not stipulate what should be done with non-urgent repairs, but the implication is that a small repair that would normally be carried out by a landlord or contractor could be temporarily repaired by the tenant, or that both parties could agree that no action be taken during the period of "lockdown".

In terms of tenants providing access, although access for urgent repairs should be provided (with tenants taking precautions such as ensuring they are in a different part of the property than the part undergoing repairs), access for viewings and inspections should not be carried out. The guidance also advises against moving house where possible.

Landlords are still expected to carry out gas safety tests, and from 1 July 2020 they must also comply with the new electrical safety testing requirements. However, the guidance seems to recognise that some tenants will not want to provide access, and it therefore reminds landlords to keep notes of all its communications with tenants in an attempt to arrange access. If landlords have taken all reasonable steps to carry out the tests, but are unable to do so, the guidance suggests they will not be deemed to be in breach of their obligations.

The recurring theme of the guidance is pragmatism, and that landlords and tenants must work together:  "It has never been more important for landlords and tenants to take a pragmatic common-sense approach to resolving issues".

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