The coronavirus outbreak has turned life upside down for people the world over. No one could have predicted quite how much it would affect normal life, and no one is sure how long we’ll be experiencing the after-effects for.
For both landlords and tenants, this pandemic is throwing up a whole host of questions; such as how and when to carry out property maintenance. The situation is changing rapidly, but this is the standpoint on property maintenance duties as of April 30th 2020.
Should landlords carry out property inspections during the coronavirus outbreak?
In basic terms, anything that isn’t urgent or health and safety related should be avoided until further notice – including property inspections and non-essential maintenance/repairs. However, this shouldn’t be confused with forgetting about your legal responsibilities altogether. Insurers will require checks to be up to date before the UK was put on lockdown on March 23rd 2020. Tenants still have a right to a decent, warm and safe place to live – perhaps now even more so. With everyone spending more and more time at home, any hazardous conditions will likely be interrupting day-to-day life more than usual.
Any urgent matters within a property must still be dealt with. This includes things such as:
- Disconnection of utilities such as water and electricity
- Roof leaks or any other severe, continuous water ingress
- Broken boilers or anything that leaves a tenant without heating or hot water
- Danger of structural collapse
- Significant electrical hazards
- Loss of emergency provisions such as a fire alarm
- Sewerage leaks and backed up drains
- Security issues such as broken windows
- Broken white goods such as fridges and washing machines
- Loss of other basic amenities, such as toilets, kitchens and washing facilities
To put it simply, if it affects your tenant’s ability to live safely and maintain their mental and physical health in the property, then it deserves the appropriate attention.
The good news is that trades people are allowed to continue working in properties at the moment for this very reason, so long as they are following social distancing practices, washing their hands regularly and not touching their face to prevent infection and spread.
What’s the guidance around gas and electricity safety inspections?
It is a legal duty to repair and maintain gas pipework, flues and appliances in a safe condition. These duties are met by carrying out annual gas safety checks within the property. But in these unprecedented times, is this still a priority?
Well, there has to be a balance. Landlords must do what they can to ensure that tenants are protected from any potentially fatal risks arising from carbon monoxide exposure or a gas explosion, whilst doing their bit to minimise the spread of coronavirus.
The Government guidance states that this work can and should still be carried out if it is necessary to keep tenants safe, and social distancing practices must apply when entering tenants homes. If you can’t gain access to the property because your tenant is self-isolating, shielding and/or has coronavirus symptoms, be sure to document your efforts and all communication with your tenants to show that you’ve been proactive. Similarly, if you can’t find a registered gas engineer to carry out the work due to a shortage of workers, make sure you document this too.
The Government has expressed that it is encouraging councils to take a common-sense approach to this enforcement during the coronavirus outbreak. The law is flexible here so as long as you can show you took reasonable steps to organise checks, you won’t run into issues. Just make sure you jump back onto arranging those safety checks as soon as you can. It’s worth checking with your insurance provider; some may require that you undertake those important checks within seven days of lockdown being lifted, whenever that may be. You’ll find more helpful information around gas and electricity safety inspections on the Gas Safe Register website.
When it comes to making decisions about property maintenance at this time, landlords need to consider each property on a case-by-case basis. Don’t turn a blind eye to issues, and ensure you remain in contact with your tenants to regularly check that there’s nothing inside the property that they’re worried about. Perhaps you could undertake your inspections via video call.
If anything, now is the time to strengthen landlord/tenant relationships and pull together to ensure the utmost safety and wellbeing of everybody. Approach property maintenance with compassion and common sense.