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Problems renting during the coronavirus crisis, your questions answered

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Emergency legislation has introduced greater protection to tenants during the coronavirus crisis, at a time when it was important to ensure that people did not find themselves homeless due to financial difficulties.

You may have read newspaper stories referring to these changes, but most gave little detail and did not explain their practical impact for renters. So, if you rent your home, you may still be wondering how these changes could affect you.

Here Lisa Waghorne, a property dispute solicitor with Stephens & Son in Chatham, answers some of your questions.

Is this true that I do not have to pay rent because of the coronavirus crisis?

You may have seen headlines in the press referring to a three-month rent holiday, but this term is a little misleading. Your liability to pay rent continues and is not affected by the changes.

However, if you are in financial hardship you can ask your landlord to pause your rent and accept payment later. Alternatively, you can ask him to agree a temporary rent reduction. Your landlord does not have to agree to your request, but you are now protected from him taking immediate action to evict you.

Unpaid rent will continue to mount up and your landlord could take legal action to recover it later if you are unable to make it up. Agreeing a rent pause and repayment schedule with him could give you immediate relief and spread the cost of your debt. You should be realistic about what you can afford, or you could struggle in the future.  

Can my landlord make me leave my home during the crisis?

This will depend upon the type of tenancy agreement you have. In most cases, your landlord will need to give you at least three months’ formal notice. If you do not leave by the end of that notice period, he must obtain a court order before he can make you go, a process which is likely to take several months.

It can be very worrying if your landlord wants you to leave, but he must follow the correct procedures. If he does not, you may be able to challenge him. Talk to a solicitor who is experienced in landlord and tenant law. She can advise you of your rights, and how best to protect yourself.

My landlord started possession proceedings before lockdown. What happens now?

Being forced to leave your home can be extremely stressful, especially when finding a new one may be hard. However, there is no need to panic.

From 27 March 2020, any existing possession proceedings have been paused for three months, or longer if the government decides to extend this period. This means your landlord cannot progress his application to evict you. You must still pay the rent and observe the other terms of your tenancy agreement, but this may give you time to seek alternative accommodation, to negotiate with your landlord or take legal advice.

My landlord is refusing to get the roof/boiler/shower fixed. Can he do this?

Your landlord must observe the terms of the tenancy agreement and ensure your home is safe and kept in repair. It is important therefore to report any issues as soon as possible and to work with him to resolve them constructively.

During the current crisis, your landlord may postpone routine inspections or delay some minor works. However, he should prioritise repairs affecting your safety or physical or mental wellbeing. This could extend to any white goods, like fridges or washing machines, he provides.

Anyone visiting your home and carrying out work should observe current government guidance on keeping safe.

I am shielding/isolating/worried about the virus. Can I stop my landlord from entering my home?

Your landlord may want to enter your home to carry out repairs. In addition, your tenancy agreement may also say he can enter for routine inspections or to market the property.

Whether you can stop him from entering will depend upon the terms of your agreement and the circumstances. However, your landlord should follow the current government guidance on protecting the vulnerable, self-isolation and social distancing. This may mean he can only have access for emergency repairs and must ensure anyone carrying them out respects your safety.

In many cases, it should be possible to agree to postpone the works or to deal with the issue remotely.

My landlord is harassing me. What can I do?

It is unlawful for your landlord to harass you. Harassment may include cutting off services, visiting your home late at night, abuse and other behaviour designed to make you leave. However, your landlord cannot make you leave your home without giving you the correct notice. In most cases, he will also need a court order.

If your landlord is harassing you, you should write to ask him to stop. If the harassment continues, keep records, and seek advice from the charity Shelter, your local authority or solicitor. A letter from your solicitor should curb his behaviour. Should matters escalate, she can apply to court for an order forcing him to stop, or to honour the terms of your tenancy agreement. During the coronavirus crisis, the courts have indicated that they will prioritise this type of application.

How can a dispute resolution solicitor help me?

Timely communication and knowing your rights (and duties) as a tenant should head off most issues. Occasionally, this may not be enough. Your landlord may persist with unreasonable behaviour, or you may find yourself locked in an intractable dispute.

An experienced property dispute resolution solicitor will help you break through the impasse so you can feel more settled and secure in your home. She may suggest a roundtable meeting with your landlord or formal mediation. Often discussing things objectively, in a structured way, can resolve the issue. Otherwise you may need a different approach, which could include applying to court.

Your solicitor will have seen many different disputes and will know how best to resolve yours as quickly and efficiently as possible.

For further information about the issues discussed, or dispute resolution in general, please, contact Lisa in the Civil Litigation and Disputes team on 01634 811444 or email lisa.waghorne@stephens-son.co.uk.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.

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