Spring has sprung - navigating property maintenance during COVID-19
Article Posted - 2nd April 2020
With the clocks springing forward by an hour on 29 March, we can all expect longer, lighter evenings as we make our way into the new season. Spring has long represented a great opportunity for landlords to carry out essential property maintenance after the harsh winter weather has finally subsided, however at present landlords face a maintenance dilemma.
The current coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has naturally concerned landlords for a number of reasons, including missed rental payments, tenant wellbeing, property maintenance and the impact on their own finances. It is an understandably worrying time for landlords, who are not only responsible for their own family, but their tenants too. We have put together comprehensive guidance on how to support your tenants and maintain your property during this uncertain time.
So, as a landlord should you continue to perform property inspections and maintenance during this period?
First and foremost, landlords are still legally obligated to keep their rental property in a good state of repair and ensure that any necessary property inspections are being carried out. However, this must be correctly assessed and balanced against the potential risk of infection or spread of COVID-19 and should not put you or your tenants at risk.
The Government recently released guidance for landlords and tenants in the private and
social rented sectors with further details on how to navigate this unprecedented time. They have issued the following summarised guidance on property maintenance:
- Landlords’ repair obligations have not changed. It is in the best interests of both tenants and landlords to ensure that properties are kept in good repair and free from hazards
- Good management requires regular review and maintenance of a property, but we understand that planned inspections may be more difficult at this time. However, that is no reason to allow dangerous conditions to persist
- We encourage tenants to inform landlords early and engage constructively in the event that they encounter any issues with the condition of the property. Technological solutions such as smartphones can be used to reduce the need for in-person inspections of property issues
- Where reasonable and safe for you, and in line with other government guidance, you should make every effort to review and address issues brought to your attention by your tenants, and keep records of your efforts
The Government also notes that during these unprecedented times they highly encourage tenants and landlords to take a “pragmatic, common-sense approach to non-urgent issues which are affected by COVID-19 related restrictions”.
Whilst spring property maintenance may not currently be at the top of your priority list, conducting an improvised inspection with the help of your tenants, can help to ensure that you fulfil your obligations while also potentially mitigating any issues later on in the year.
The importance of SPRING property maintenance
You may not be able to follow our NLA Property Insurance spring property maintenance guide to the letter under the current circumstances, however it still contains useful hints and tips to keep you and your tenants on track.
Adaptations to our S P R I N G maintenance acronym can help.
As a landlord, carrying out an inspection of the property structure is made more difficult if you can’t access the property in the first place. In the event of any worrying structural issues that put your tenants at risk this is a very different story, however, for most landlords this simply means assessing any damage caused to the building over the harsh winter weather, including roof damage, wood rot or subsidence.
If you are unable to carry out an inspection in person, and have a good rapport with your tenants, why not seek their help in assessing these key areas? Tenants who understand your motivations for doing this may be happy to help out with a quick checklist of visual inspections that they can report back to you. Don’t forget in this instance to keep detailed records of this and don’t ask your tenants to carry out any potentially unsafe maintenance on your behalf, especially if it requires professional advice or support. It is still your responsibility to ensure the safety and security of your tenants at all times.
If you don’t have a glowing relationship with your tenants now is as good a chance as any to check in and see how they are doing during the current lockdown - it could help to build their trust in you as a good landlord. This will help you to build your relationship, benefiting both your tenant and the property. In the event that this is simply not possible, ensure that you keep a record for future reference and make it clear that you have made every attempt to address any issues that have been raised.
Checking pipes after a long cold winter is vital to ensure that they are in good working order and not experiencing a reduced flow, blockage or have burst. Ask your tenants to notify you if they experience a reduced flow in water, which could signify an issue with the pipework.
It is also worthwhile informing your tenants of the location of the stopcock in the event of an emergency, to limit any damage caused by a burst pipe. This is a simple, yet extremely effective, tip should the worst happen.
Now is a great time to remind tenants about the importance of keeping the property clean and tidy, as well as notifying you of any potential problems with white goods and appliances.
Any leaves, twigs or rubbish accumulating around the property not only makes it unpleasant to look at, but also causes safety concerns, such as dried leaves and twigs which could present a fire hazard or discarded waste which attracts pests.
Unless essential repairs are required, it is unlikely that you will be able to carry out a regular inspection in person for the foreseeable. In this instance improvisation is a landlord’s aid, carrying out a virtual property inspection could be one way around this issue. This would give your tenants the perfect opportunity to discuss any property concerns they have with you, document your inspection and provide you with the opportunity to see the property, albeit not in person.
Once restrictions are lifted you can then resume regular inspections.
With more people in their homes over this period, condensation, damp and mould is a particular area that you should play close attention to. Read more about damp, mould and condensation here.
Despite the current lockdown timeline being unclear, the current confinement provides landlords and their tenants time to think about the months to come and identify any potential problems that could impact the property long term.
Remember, carrying out this pre-emptive maintenance can keep you one step ahead of problems, leaving your property and tenants healthy and happy.
Landlords should not ask tenants to perform any potentially unsafe maintenance on the property such as cutting down trees and shrubbery or checking the roof and guttering as this puts them at significant risk. However, encouraging your tenants to get some fresh air in the garden or any outside space you have (while remaining compliant with social distancing measures), is not only great for their mental health but could even be beneficial from a property perspective.
Why not initiate a constructive dialogue with your tenants about the garden? There may be small aspects of property maintenance that they can carry out on your behalf such as light weeding, tidying and general maintenance. Some of this may already be your tenant’s responsibility so double check your tenancy agreement.
Top tip: don’t forget to keep all spring property maintenance properly documented and time stamped.
For more hints and tips read our full landlord guide to spring property maintenance.
The importance of good landlord and tenant communication
The vast majority of revised spring tips involve good quality communication with your tenants. While this is easier said than done for some landlords and tenants it is this communication that matters now more than ever. Getting this right can significantly reduce problems and property stress for you both. Find out more about how to sustain good communication with your tenants here.
Why not also share our handy tenant advice checklist to help your tenants support spring property maintenance?
If you haven’t already, make sure that you speak to your tenants during this unsettling time. It is likely that you are currently facing similar worries over rental payments, housing and financial factors. A problem shared is a problem halved. Read more about how you can support your tenants’ wellbeing, and your own, during this time.
The distinction between landlord and tenant responsibilities during the current climate have in some instances become blurred. This doesn’t mean however that landlords should not take their legal responsibilities seriously, and as stated by the Government, landlords repair obligations have not changed.
However, it is not unrealistic to assume that, as a result of current restrictions, some property maintenance and inspections may involve greater landlord and tenant collaboration. This is an extremely positive factor in building a lasting and successful landlord and tenant relationship, whereby open communication can help resolve issues and potentially prevent them from occurring in the first place.
Just as landlords’ obligations and responsibilities remain the same, tenants’ do too. In a number of areas, such as garden maintenance, this should be clearly outlined in the tenancy agreement. However, during these trying and ever-changing times no two days ever seem the same. Operating with empathy, understanding and patience is the key to navigating this uncertain time together.
The importance of future planning
The current pandemic won’t last forever and despite ongoing daily changes as a result of COVID-19, you are still responsible for the safety and security of your property and tenants. Whilst current maintenance will be impacted in the short term, eventually landlords will return to conducting usual property inspections and maintenance and so putting best practice methods into place now can serve you well once the pandemic is over.
Continuing to carry out as much of your spring property maintenance regime as you can will stand you in good form for the summer, autumn and winter months. Don’t forget to also protect your property for a number of eventualities with comprehensive landlord insurance.
Our NLA Property Insurance policies offer comprehensive cover for landlords and buy to let owners. We offer a simple choice – Standard or Superior cover giving you flexibility over the cover included and the price you wish to pay. What’s more, as an NLA Member, you’re entitled to 30% off on our Standard policy and 15% on our Superior policy.
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