New tenancy agreements can still be signed in this national lockdown and tenants can view and move in and out of rental properties.
Letting agents are allowed to work, although they may be slower than usual at getting back to you because they are likely to be working from home. If the office is open, landlords and tenants are allowed to visit by appointment and are expected to follow the same protocols as any Covid-secure workplace.
It is legally acceptable for tenancy agreements to be signed and sent electronically; they do not need to be signed or handed over in person.
Property viewings must be virtual in the first instance, whether that’s a video tour or a virtual walk-through, and made by appointment only; open-day events are banned. All participants must wear a face covering and keep their distance, and agents should not be driving clients to properties. Sharing a car with those outside your household or support bubble is also banned.
Tenants should not be viewing properties or allowing access to letting agents if they are shielding, self-isolating, showing symptoms of or have tested positive for Covid-19.
Where possible the property should be empty when you are viewing it and everyone should be wearing a face covering and practising social distancing.
Windows should be open to ventilate the property and surfaces should be cleaned before and after viewings.
Tenants are encouraged to do most of the heavy lifting and only to seek help to move from those in their household or support bubble.
Inventories should not be carried out if a tenant is showing symptoms or has tested positive.
If you have to travel outside your area for a viewing or you have nowhere to stay in between tenancies, you are allowed to stay overnight in another home, a hotel or a B&B; the owners are legally allowed to host you to help you to move.
Cleaners are allowed in the property if you need it to be professionally cleaned, and removal vans can still be booked.
The property should be left empty for at least 72 hours before an inventory is carried out and at least 72 hours before another tenant moves in. The property must be deep-cleaned and emptied of people and pets before the removal professionals arrive. Windows should be open for ventilation and the crew should have access to washing facilities. Do not offer them a cup of tea; movers are now required to carry their own kettle, mugs and teabags.
Both parties must agree an alternative date to move should one of them fall ill. Keys should be sanitised before they are handed over.
After a temporary winter suspension, bailiffs can evict tenants again from January 11 in England and Wales. Evictions can be enforced from January 22 in Scotland, although this could be extended.
Courts cannot grant new evictions in Scotland or Wales until March 31.
Landlords in England must give tenants six months’ notice, instead of two, if they want to repossess the property to sell or live in before they can bring new cases. This measure does not usually protect lodgers or property guardians.
Landlords must give tenants four weeks’ notice when they have built up six months’ worth of arrears so they can start to take action now for pre-Covid non-payment cases.
Four weeks’ notice must be given to tenants who are being evicted due to antisocial behaviour and two weeks’ notice for cases of domestic violence.
Before a repossession hearing landlords must provide information on how the tenants’ finances have been affected by Covid-19 with evidence of their arrears history as part of the reactivation notice. These measures will be in place until March 28, but this deadline could be extended.
Expect the process to take longer than usual due to a backlog of cases that built up during a six-month eviction ban last year.
Landlords have until March 31 to apply for a mortgage holiday and they can defer payments until July 31, although interest will accrue in that time.
Scottish landlords can get interest-free loans during the pandemic. Some existing rent-guarantee insurance policies do cover missed rent in the pandemic once the tenant is two months behind, but others exclude it. New policies usually exclude the first 90 days.
The Discretionary Housing Fund and Local Housing Allowance is available for tenants in need, and there is a package of short-term loans and grants in Scotland and Wales.