Covid 19 and MEES: landlords and agents cannot ‘self isolate’

2020 is turning out to be an ‘annus horribilis’ for everyone, says Frances Burkinshaw. It’s not just tricky for the Royal Family – letting agencies and landlords have challenges too.

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For the past three years, life has been overshadowed by Brexit and now 2020 is being overshadowed by Covid 19. This, of course, is not simply a UK problem but a world-wide problem which will have devastating effects on many people and many economies.

Frances Burkinshaw image
Frances Burkinshaw

Landlords may well have difficulties with regard to letting properties and maintenance issues in the future.

I understand that ARLA has asked for guidance from government for situations where contractors cannot attend properties if tenants are in isolation.

Tricky issues

What would happen if a tenant was due to move out of a property and a new tenant was due to move in and the existing tenant is told to self-isolate, which would take him past the move-out date? The new tenant couldn’t move in and this would cause serious problems for all concerned.

Landlords, of course, are bound by various pieces of legislation to keep properties in good order. During the winter months it is incumbent upon landlords to maintain the heating system. So what would happen if the boiler breaks down and the tenant is in isolation? A contractor should not enter the property with the danger of contracting the illness himself and then spreading it to other tenants when doing maintenance work at other properties.

If landlords do not maintain properties they could find themselves facing formal notices from the local authority and possible fines.

MEES too?

It will be important for consideration and leniency to be given in such situations. It will also be paramount that government consider delaying the implementation of the new electrical regulations and perhaps also the MEES regulations, which came into force on 1st April.

What happens if a tenant is due to leave and another to move in… but the existing tenant has to self-isolate?

During February and March landlords may have been carrying out improvements to properties to bring them up to an E rating. If Covid 19 ‘hits’ the tenants or the contractors work could not continue and delays would occur.

The MEES Regulations (Domestic Minimum Energy Efficiency Regulations) came into effect on 1st April 2018 for all new tenancies. Properties with an efficiency rating of F or G were no longer permitted to be let. Landlords then had until 1st April this year to bring all properties, including let properties, up to an E rating.

Exemption possibilities

The majority of properties in England and Wales fall under these regulations but there are some exceptions where a landlord may be able to register an exemption on the PRS Exemptions Register. These include:

  • If a tenant refuses to allow improvement works to be carried out
  • If a landlord is unable to obtain permission from a third party to carry out improvements despite making reasonable efforts
  • If the necessary works would devalue the property by more then 5% or
  • If the necessary works will costs more than £3,500

It is really important for landlords to take necessary steps to bring properties up to the minimum rating of E. This does not necessarily mean spending loads of money although one would be forgiven for thinking that this would be the case.

Some more simple and inexpensive improvements might include:

  • Installing or improving loft insulation
  • Switching to a smart meter
  • Installing low energy lightbulbs

A landlord who has tried to improve a property but it still has a rating of below E may be able to register an exemption as there is a ‘cost cap’ of £3,500 (including VAT).

Therefore if the landlord has already spent £3,500 but failed to reach a rating of E the ‘cost cap’ will take effect and the landlord should be able to register an exemption.

It may be possible that funding could be available for certain improvements and therefore it would be well worth while looking into this before major works are carried out.

As with all regulations, failure to comply could result in a fine of up to £4,000 (per breach). If a landlord submits false or misleading information to the PRS Exemptions Register it could result in a fine of up to £1,000.

Details of breaches may be published on the PRS Exemptions Register, which is publicly available.

We must hope that if works were planned or were in motion and had to be delayed due to the effects of Coronavirus consideration will be given and leniency applied.

Frances Burkinshaw is an experienced independent trainer available nationally for in-house or group training. 01892 783961 or 07887 714341 or [email protected]

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