The rising number of coronavirus cases in the UK is having a profound effect on people’s day to day lives. More and more people are self-isolating and working from home following recent government advice. Many are also facing financial uncertainty in these difficult times.
News from the government is being released every day and can be hard to predict, which makes it difficult to know what to do. Property managers are therefore wondering what is the best response to the ever-changing circumstances.
The NLA and the RLA have released a joint statement saying:
“We are encouraging all landlords to work positively with tenants to provide support where needed throughout this difficult period. Landlords should be as flexible as they can to help tenants facing payment difficulties resulting from the impact of the coronavirus.
“To support landlords in this we are calling for a package of measures from Government and mortgage providers. This includes a temporary scrapping of the five week wait before Universal Credit claimants get their first payment, pausing the final phase of restricting mortgage interest relief to the basic rate of income tax and ensuring lenders look sympathetically on requests by landlords for mortgage payment holidays where their income is being affected through reduced or non-payment of rent.”
While waiting for government updates on how they plan to act, there are things you can be doing to help in the meantime.
Provide support where you can
If a tenant is self-isolating in compliance with NHS advice, it is important to be aware that the tenant may suffer a reduction in income. Often employees have to rely on statutory sick pay, benefits or have a zero-hours contract which can mean they are particularly affected. Universal Credit claimants’ income will be hit the month after isolation because of how it is calculated.
The risk of rent arrears in the near future is therefore markedly higher. The RLA is encouraging property managers to communicate with tenants and be flexible where they can. Discuss when and how tenants can repay arrears once the situation calms down. The government have said that it is bringing legislation forward to protect renters from eviction, but until further details have been announced and a timeframe is introduced it is beneficial to already have a plan in place with tenants.
If your tenants are vulnerable, for example, older people or those with underlying health conditions, check to see if they have the support they need. If not, there are ways in which you can assist. Simply checking in on them electronically or arranging deliveries for them will be a huge help and ease their mind during this worrying time.
Establish good communication
As the situation is constantly evolving, it is important to maintain good communication with tenants. Effective communication with tenants can ease stress and worry on both sides. As circumstances escalate, a variety of services will be affected, such as the availability of contractors, which will make many aspects of property management difficult. Making sure that you have a system in place for complaints is extremely helpful and with clear communication, tension can be eased.
You could also communicate the latest NHS and government updates to them and any measures they should be practising to stay safe.
Keep yourself safe
To avoid the spread of the virus, the government have recommended social distancing and reduced contact. This again complicates many aspects of property management, but it is important to remain safe.
If you have any inspections scheduled, it is advisable to consider whether they can be delayed until further notice and communicate this with tenants. If not, check official advice, avoid contact with the tenants and follow hygiene guidelines. The same should apply for repairs.
It has also been advised for companies to allow their staff to work from home where possible. If this is the case, then make sure that tenants, property owners and all other stakeholders can reach you easily via email, phone, apps etc.
There are software solutions available that digitise many of the property management processes, making it a lot easier for you and your team to work from home. Cloud-based solutions ensure that all employees are able to access everything they need from anywhere.
There are a variety of tips available on the internet about how to work from home effectively and maintain productivity. For example, Rightmove hosted a webinar with industry consultant, Peter Knight, who shares how agents can prepare for and make the most of working from home.
It is important that you are regularly checking for any updates from the government and NHS and make sure you are adapting anything you are doing to be compliant with the guidelines.