Spring Cleaning Rental Properties – And Why Using Lockdown as an Excuse to Neglect work won’t cut it!

As the days begin to length and the daffodils put in an appearance, there is a definite feeling that Spring is in the air. What with some relaxation to lockdown rules having come into effect on 8th March, there’s a cautious renewed energy circulating.

Spring is traditionally a time when home owners and landlords alike carry out a stock take and assessment of their properties. Of course, usually we are entering ‘bank holiday’ season – with a run of long weekends just around the corner and a chance to crack on with those much needed DIY jobs. I suspect, this year however, that the usual surge in DIY being undertaken on these weekends may not be so noticeable but that’s not to say it isn’t a good time to remedy any repairs caused from the ravages of Winter and to freshen up your home.

Fallen branches, burst pipes, loose roof tiles, cracked windows and rotten wood can all be caused by cold and damp winter weather. Leaves often block gutters, and strong winds can cause damage to fencing, leaving a property insecure. Tackling these problems sooner rather than later can prevent more damage occurring, and so now is a good time to get the ladders out and do a considered visual inspection of your property.

Landlords should ideally do the same – and carry out a series of thorough property checks. They need to understand what can and can’t be done without placing themselves or their tenants at undue risk. Some landlords may be unsure how to go about this within current restrictions but using lockdown as an excuse to neglect properties is only going to create bad feeling and potentially store up worse problems for the future.

Maintenance of Rental Properties during lockdown

Most landlords will have continued to be in contact with their tenants throughout the pandemic – not least to ensure that tenants are OK. Ethical and responsible landlords will have been pro-actively contacting tenants to establish if they need any practical help and whether or not their financial situation has been adversely affected by lockdown. As has been widely reported – many thousands of people have found themselves out of work, and statistically these people are more likely to be renters than home owners. On the whole, speaking to landlords over the past year, many have managed to work in collaboration with their tenant and come to a mutually agreeable financial arrangement if the tenant has found themselves jobless.

Whilst the Government has recognised that many tenants will have fallen into arrears over the last 12 months and have continued to extend the Evictions Ban in a effort to protect them from loosing a roof over their head, it’s fair to say that little is reported about landlords who themselves may be struggling to meet their ongoing property commitments. Whatever your views, it’s important to recognise that both parties face different challenges – and now more than ever we should all look to be as flexible and sympathetic to one another as possible. Essentially, the primary goal in any landlord / tenant relationship is to ensure that the tenant is safe and the landlord receives the rent and any other payments as usual.

Landlords that use the lockdown restrictions as an excuse to ignore essential maintenance work are only going to store up more problems for themselves. They may inadvertently be giving tenants a reason to withhold rent if their living conditions are considered to be risky or hazardous. Under the current Government guidance, the obligation of landlords to repair sub-standard properties hasn’t changed. However, access to properties should be restricted to situations where the issue is very serious or urgent such as the need for repairs that, if not completed, would put your tenants at risk.

If a landlord needs to visit the property they must keep at least two metres away from the tenants at all times and wear protective clothing such as gloves and masks. Diligent hand hygiene measures should also be followed including washing hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds using soap and water. And if soap and water aren’t available, a hand sanitiser which has at least a 70% alcohol content should be used.

What can landlords do?

Landlords can visit tenants and properties for repairs or routine inspections and Tradespeople can also enter homes.

Landlords should firstly talk to their tenants before any visit to establish if anyone has been in contact with someone with coronavirus or if anyone is self-isolating. If this is the case, the landlord should discuss with the tenant whether or not the work can wait or if it absolutely necessary to be addressed straight away. At the end of the day, the health and safety of the tenant is the most important thing.

If a tenant is self-isolating after displaying symptoms of Covid-19, any property inspection should be postponed for a minimum of 7 days (if they live alone) or 14 days (if there is more than one person in the household). In the event that a landlord needs to postpone an inspection, it’s a good idea to keep a record detailing the reasons this has been done and of all communications with tenants. This could prove useful in the event of any future dispute.

Gas safety inspections can still be completed as long as both engineer and tenants have consented to it. Engineers entering a property must wear personal protective equipment, and practise social distancing. As with landlords wishing to enter a rental property, they must also check beforehand whether the tenant is self-isolating themselves, or has been in contact with anyone with coronavirus or who has recently entered into self-isolation. Engineers can choose not to carry out the inspection and reschedule if they feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

If a tenant is self-isolating after displaying symptoms, inspection should be postponed for a minimum of seven days (if they live alone) or 14 days (if there is more than one person in the household). If tenants are “shielding” the landlord needs to consider the balance of risk presented by the gas system itself, with the risk to the tenant’s health. If by delaying the gas safety check the tenant will not be put at risk, its sensible to delay the check.

What if Tenants Move Out?

Moving house is allowed and tenants can continue to move home. Estate agents and removal firms have been operating since last Summer – they just have to observe all the necessary safety precautions. While it is the tenant’s responsibility to clean the property duration their tenancy, if they move out, a thorough, deep clean should be carried out. Landlords would be best advised to employ a professional cleaning company to come in after tenants have left.
In terms of re-letting the property, the Government has issued specific guidelines for letting agents to follow. Here are some of the key points:
• Use an appointment system to manage office visits, similar to a dentist
• Always ask whether tenants or customers are showing symptoms or self-isolating before agreeing to meet them or booking viewings
• Don’t hold open houses
• Do virtual viewings for the first viewing and in-person only if they show real interest
• Ensure a distance of two metres between yourself, tenants and customers and consider wearing a mask
• Don’t drive customers to viewings
• Wipe doors and surfaces before customers enter and make sure customers wash their hands immediately after they enter
• Encourage existing tenants or owners to vacate the property while viewings take place
And remember, a gap in rental is a good time for landlords to carry out repairs and general maintenance work, so if the spring clean coincides with a change in tenancy, they can ‘reset’ the property with minimal disruption.

Whatever your situation this Spring time, use it to open up the doors and let some sunshine in.