Adapting to changing pressures in our social and business environment, is uncomfortable but necessary and something we do naturally. It is something we plan for, and in a world before the Coronavirus pandemic, something we managed.
The rapid world wide spread of this pandemic and the necessary actions of our government have giving us all little time to plan - little time to adapt – and now we find ourselves in a post normality that we have no choice but to accept and respect for the wellbeing of ourselves, our families, our colleagues, and above all those that are the most vulnerable in our communities.
As a business, Chilterns have always been innovative and digitally aware. Having already adopted this stance has given us some solace when overcoming the challenges presented by Covid19 – but in an industry focused on connecting people with property, the concept of social distancing is so alien to the very fabric of society that we find ourselves adapting exponentially to be able to make this adjustment and to continue providing the services that are ingrained within our business.
Very quickly, Chilterns have adapted and implemented change in both property sales and lettings whilst strictly adhering to government guidance and Coronavirus legislation. We have adopted a work from home policy and key personnel are on hand to continue to deal with any enquiries whether in sales or lettings.
· Digital Tenancy Progression and Digital Tenancy Renewals were adopted by Chilterns last year when adapting our processes to comply with the Tenants Fees Act 2019, allowing us to progress new tenancies from start to finish almost entirely remotely, meaning referencing can be completed online and tenancy agreements can be sent and docu-signed digitally, including information such as the “How to Rent Guide”, Gas Safety certificates, Energy Performance Certificates (EPC), and Tenancy Deposit paperwork. We will still need to see evidence of a tenants’ “Right to Rent” in person and will need to make sure they are following the governments Coronavirus management advice for this meeting.
· Remote Property Inspections will now replace traditional face to face inspections and will be carried out by our property inspectors who will telephone tenants on a prearranged appointment. A series of questions will be asked during the Remote Inspection including a request to check smoke and CO detectors; they will be asked to identify any maintenance issues, and these will be categorized as essential or non-essential repairs and dealt with accordingly. Any repairs identified as essential will be carried out following strict government guidelines recognizing social distancing and timescales where tenants are in isolation or do in fact have the virus.
· Gas Safety Certificates represent a continued legal duty of care for landlords [Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1988] and must be carried out and not allowed to expire. Where a registered gas engineer is unable to gain access e.g., refusal to allow access due to tenants self-isolating, it is important that landlords or their agent are able to keep accurate records showing that all reasonable steps were taken to comply with the law. Every effort should be made to arrange the safety check as soon as all parties are available. If you anticipate difficulties in gaining access as the COVID-19 situation progresses, you have the flexibility to carry out annual gas safety checks two months before the deadline date. Landlords can have the annual gas safety checks at their properties carried out any time from 10 to 12 calendar months after the previous check and still retain the original deadline date as if the check had been carried out exactly 12 months after the previous check. Chilterns have adapted their processes to instruct the gas engineers from month 10 to ensure there is plenty of time for the inspection to take place should there be a delay through self-isolation.
· Property Viewings are not regarded as serious or urgent, and therefore the government is clear when it states that no one should visit a property to conduct viewings, or anything else that is non-urgent, and health and safety related. Where possible, Chilterns are providing virtual viewings for any potential tenants that may be interested in a property to let. The virtual viewing is a pre-recorded walk through video that will hopefully provide applicants with a good understanding of the property.
· Remote Rental Valuations allow landlords to contact our valuers who are able to advise on the likely rent they should achieve on their property; our Property Management team can advise on all aspects of ‘letting your property’ including guidance on legislation including updated Coronavirus legislation and health and safety requirements.
· Online Chat is available through our website at: www.chilterns.co and provides a platform 24/7 for customers to interact with the Chilterns team.
· Tenant Repair Requests can be monitored and responded to 24/7 through our online digital repair reporting system, Fixflo, which is available to all Chilterns fully managed property tenants.
· Where Tenancies are Ending during this period and it is possible to delay moving to a new home whilst emergency measures are in place to fight Coronavirus, landlords and tenants should try to reach a temporary solution. However, where moving is unavoidable for contractual reasons and agreement for delay cannot be reached, people must follow advice on monitoring strict separation to minimize the spread of the virus. Chilterns Property Inspectors will of course be available to deal with the end of tenancy process.
· The Rent Payment Process will not be interrupted, and landlords can expect to continue to receive their rent payments as usual. Where there is an impact on any tenant’s ability to pay their rent because of Coronavirus, Chilterns have adapted their processes to help tenants and landlords work towards a short-term solution. The government guidance makes it clear that landlords and tenants should continue to adhere to the terms of the tenancy agreement and where possible tenants must make every effort to pay the rent and if necessary take advantage of the raft of support measures the government have implemented during this crisis.
· Changes to Eviction Rules after Coronavirus Act passes into law has meant providing additional powers to deal with the Coronavirus outbreak including measures to suspend new evictions from private rented accommodation while the national crisis is taking place. Under the Coronavirus Act, landlords will not be able to start proceedings to evict tenants for at least a three-month period. This includes possession of tenancies in the Rent Act 1977, the Housing Act 1985, the Housing Act 1996 and the Housing Act 1988.
When using either Section 8 or Section 21 notices to quit, landlords must give at least three months’ notice before they can apply to the court for possession. This applies regardless of which ground is used for Section 8.
Importantly, the change in law only applies to notices served on or after 26 March 2020. From 27 March 2020 the court service will suspend all ongoing housing possession action. This means that neither cases either currently in or about to go in the system can progress to the stage where someone could be evicted. This suspension of housing possessions action will initially last for 90 days, but this can be extended if needed.
The Government has updated Form 6A Notice seeking possession of a property let on an Assured Shorthold Tenancy to reflect the change in the law which came into force on 26 March 2020. The Form 6A should be used by landlords in England up to 30 September 2020.
The new rules mean that granting possession is not stopped completely, rather the Government has chosen to extend notice periods. However, the UK Government has the power to alter the three-month notice period to six months or any other period.
Chilterns will continue to adapt to the challenges presented by the environment we work in and by adjusting our work processes we will be able to continue to meet the service levels we have always strived to achieve and that our customers have grown to expect.
The Coronavirus does however affect us all in our daily lives and whilst I am writing this it is hard to look ahead to the coming weeks or months with any certainty or finality. We of course remain optimistic and must rely upon the advice of our government to steer a path towards its end so we can all continue to go about our normal lives and bathe in the freedom that represents the very core of our nation – but to do this we must all adapt and above all support all those essential workers within our communities that are working so hard for the good of us all.