Following the announcement on 16 April 2020 that the government intends to extend lockdown until at least early May 2020, it is vital that Property Managers adapt and adjust to accommodate the challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic has introduced.
The Association of Residential Managing Agents has published a general precautionary and advisory guide to assist during the pandemic, titled “Covid-19: Best Practice Guidelines for Property Managers” (“the ARMA Guide”). We have produced a list of the top 5 practical tips arising out of the ARMA Guide which Property Managers need to be aware of.
1. Essential Repairs and Maintenance works must be carried out.
If major works are essential, such as leaking roofs or dangerous structural issues, these should continue as planned. However, all non-essential works should be postponed, with any delays and the impact of such delays having been discussed and agreed with the resident.
It is vital that Property Managers maintain systems and equipment such as lifts, fire systems, boilers, waste management and water supplies during this ongoing crisis. The ARMA Guide explains that these need to be maintained because “the overarching legal obligation remains, i.e. [to] ensure that equipment is safe to use.” However, Property Managers must avoid site visits where possible as they have the potential to be “super-spreaders” as a result of travelling to and from high density residential buildings.
2. Cleaning of communal arrears should remain a priority.
When a Property Manager becomes aware of a confirmed case of Covid-19, they must ensure that an appropriate deep clean and disinfection of the communal areas takes place. Property Managers must also ensure that cleaners wear appropriate personal protective equipment and observe the social distancing rules.
Property Managers should note that the cost of an additional deep clean, providing that it is reasonable will be chargeable through the service charge.
3. Initiate discussions regarding non-payment of rent, service charges and ground rent.
The ARMA Guide anticipates that managing agents “will no doubt be faced with leaseholders unable to pay their service charges or ground rents and asking to delay payments.”
Following Parliament’s enactment of the Coronavirus Act 2020, landlords must give 3 months’ notice to terminate all residential short leases and all possession proceedings have been stayed with no orders for possession being enforced against commercial or residential premises until 30 June 2020.
Therefore, as tenants are now protected from eviction for at least three months, the prudent approach for Property Managers to take is to initiate sensible discussions with leaseholders who are facing financial difficulties.
Property Managers should remember that it is not their decision as to whether a payment extension for ground rents and service charges should be granted. Rather, Property Managers should discuss the issues with the tenants and relay that information to the Landlord.
Further, as there has been a suspension in all forfeiture cases for non-payment of rents between 25 March and 30 June 2020, this has had an impact on arrears recovery. The ARMA Guide suggests that this could result in lenders becoming more reluctant to pay arrears and protect their security, as it is not at risk for three months. It is therefore critical that these discussions are carried out as soon as possible to ensure that payment plans can be entered into which will result in Property Managers having better management over cash flow.
Note however, the ban on forfeiture proceedings does not apply to other breaches. In those cases, you can still send a claim to the Tribunal if the tenant is in breach but it is unlikely that anything would happen for a while as all cases are on hold.
4. Communication is key during this time.
If a resident confirms that they are in self isolation due to contracting Covid-19, Property Managers should contact the rest of the residents to let them know that they must take extra precautions without disclosing the identity of the individual. Property Managers should also ensure that they have effective means to communicate with all residents and that they are doing so regularly as well as updating the residents on the actions which the Property Managers are taking. With concise and consistent communication, Property Managers will be able to manage expectations and alleviate heightened levels of anxiety in this time of uncertainty.
5. Forward planning.
Whist the above four tips are relevant during the lockdown, Property Managers should also focus on preparing an action plan during this time to ensure that services run smoothly once the restrictions have been relaxed and removed. Property Managers should consider the rescheduling of any delayed maintenance work, how to return staffing levels on site to normal levels, organising resident meetings and the opening of other amenities which were closed during the pandemic.
If you have any questions about how to approach any issue that may be arising through block property management as a result of COVID-19, please contact Natasha Lawson by email on firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone: 0207 644 6097 or connect with her on LinkedIn, or Yashmin Mistry, Partner by email on email@example.com or telephone on 0207 644 7294 or connect with her on LinkedIn.