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A landlord’s guide to essential repairs and maintenance during the coronavirus pandemic

4-minute read

Sam Bromley

23 April 2020

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The government says that landlords should still carry out urgent, essential repairs and maintenance during the coronavirus outbreak.

This can be difficult with lockdown and social distancing measures in place – here’s more information about your responsibilities and how to follow the guidelines.

What are a landlord's maintenance responsibilities during the coronavirus outbreak?

The government says "urgent, essential health and safety repairs should be made" to make sure that properties still meet the required standard for tenants. This means you need to deal with dangerous conditions, keeping accommodation in good repair and hazard-free.

During the coronavirus outbreak, repairs and inspections need to be balanced against the risk of infection and the spread of the virus, so you’ll need to make a judgment call on urgent jobs and those that can wait.

The guidelines say that urgent issues are those likely to affect your tenants’ physical or mental health:

Structure and exterior

The landlord is responsible for any repairs to the exterior of the property, and for ensuring that it’s structurally sound.

During the coronavirus pandemic, urgent structural and exterior repairs will likely include problems with the fabric of the building, for example a leak in the roof. They could also include security-critical issues, like a broken window or lock.

Heating and boiler

Landlords are legally responsible for the provision of safe, working heating in a property. This obligation is contained in section 11 of the Landlord & Tenant Act 1985.

If the boiler breaks during the coronavirus outbreak, your tenants will be without heating or hot water, affecting their physical health. This will be an urgent repair.

White goods

The vast majority of rental properties include white goods, and if you do provide them you’re legally obliged to make sure that they’re safe.

During the coronavirus outbreak, if white goods like fridges, freezers and washing machines break, it means tenants won’t be able to store food safely or have clean clothes. They’ll need to be fixed urgently.

When it comes to other equipment, the government suggests that equipment a disabled person relies on should be installed or repaired urgently.

Kitchen and bathroom

The landlord is responsible for the maintenance of all “sanitary installations” – toilets, sinks, baths and so on.

An issue with the plumbing is likely to be urgent during the coronavirus outbreak, as it can affect toilets and washing facilities.

Gardens and grounds

Tenants are generally responsible for the upkeep of a garden. As a landlord you will not, for example, be expected to go round and mow the lawn.

The use of gardens and grounds can contribute to positive mental health for your tenants during the coronavirus pandemic, but if your tenants are responsible for maintenance, they’ll need to keep it tidy. You should use your judgement when deciding whether any issues are urgent.

Carrying out the work

The government says tradespeople can still carry out repairs and maintenance in people’s homes, as long as if the tradesperson isn’t sick or showing coronavirus symptoms. They should follow social distancing guidelines.

But if your tenants are self-isolating or very high-risk, tradespeople can only “remedy a direct risk to the safety of the household” and only if they’re willing to visit in the first place. Everybody should follow social distancing and hygiene measures (for example, your tenants should stay in a different room to the tradesperson and the tradesperson should wash their hands regularly).

Finally, be sure to document all the conversations you’re having with tenants and contractors about repairs and maintenance.

What about non-urgent repairs, inspections and maintenance?

You should work constructively with your tenants to identify which repairs and maintenance issues can wait. The guidelines suggest you use technology to find out what’s wrong – video calls, for example. Video calls could also help you to carry out remote inspections.

It’s worth getting in touch with tenants to say that they still need to tell you about issues quickly. Keep records and document the attempts you’re making to resolve problems. Keep in mind the government says you should only address issues where it's “reasonable and safe for you”, and in line with other government guidance.

Ultimately, the government suggests “a pragmatic, common-sense approach to non-urgent issues which are affected by COVID-19 related restrictions”.

What about utilities (gas and electric inspections)?

Landlords need to complete an annual gas safety check, and new electrical safety standards are being introduced in July. These mean that you’ll need to complete electrical safety checks every five years (from 1 July 2020 you need to complete these checks before a new tenancy starts. For existing tenancies, you need to complete them by 1 April 2021).

The government says that while you should still abide by the regulations, you won’t be in breach of duty if you can show you’ve tried to carry out the work.

In practice, this means you should document your attempts to hire contractors and keep all correspondence you have with your tenants. The government suggests you could also keep evidence that “the installation, appliance or flue is in a good condition” while you try to arrange an inspection.

The government is encouraging local authorities and agencies to take a “common-sense” approach to enforcement.

What if someone does need to visit the property?

There are measures you can take if you (or contractors) need to visit the property for repairs and maintenance during the coronavirus pandemic:

  • avoid all direct contact with tenants
  • ask tenants to stay in a different room for the duration of the visit
  • wash your hands often (before, during and after your visit)

Keep in contact with your tenants and let them know that it’s important for them to tell you if they’re self-isolating. And, as always, make sure you give your tenants at least the minimum required notice. Read the government advice on social distancing and hygiene for more detailed guidance.

Have you tried to carry out essential repairs and maintenance during the coronavirus pandemic? Let us know how it went in the comments below.

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