How to manage property maintenance during the COVID-19 crisis
This information is current and updated to the best of our knowledge as of Tuesday 6 April 2021.
Spring is a sensible time for landlords to take stock of the health of their properties. Burst pipes, loose roof tiles, cracked windows and rotten wood can all be caused by cold and damp winter weather. Leaves often block gutters, and strong winds can cause damage to fencing, leaving a property vulnerable.
Tackling these problems sooner rather than later can help to prevent more damage occurring. At Hamilton Fraser Total Landlord Insurance we would recommend completing a thorough series of property checks every spring to ensure that your property is ready for the months ahead.
However, the current coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis has put a spanner in the works when it comes to property maintenance and means that landlords need to think carefully about property visits, inspections and safety.
There’s a lot of information included within our property maintenance guide, but you can easily skip ahead to the most relevant content by using the menu below:
- Property maintenance under COVID-19 restrictions
- The importance of spring property inspections
- What should you look out for when carrying out a spring property inspection?
Property maintenance under COVID-19 restrictions
Last year, at the beginning of the pandemic, we published a comprehensive guide for landlords to help them look after their tenants and their properties during the lockdown. 12 months later we find ourselves emerging from another national lockdown, however this time with greater clarity on landlords’ ability to carry out repairs and property maintenance.
It goes without saying that now, more than ever, landlords and tenants should be making every effort to work together constructively. Both parties are facing different challenges, but the fundamental end goals are to make sure that tenants are safe and comfortable and that the landlord receives the rent and any other payments as usual.
Under the current government guidance, landlord repair obligations haven’t changed and landlords are still legally required to keep their rental property in good condition.
As of February 2021, Government guidance states, “Landlords can take steps to carry out repairs and safety inspections, including routine and essential inspections and repairs, as well as any planned internal works to the property under the national lockdown which is in force in England, provided these are undertaken in line with public health advice and the relevant coronavirus (COVID-19) legislation… landlords should be aware that some tenants may still want to exercise caution and respect this when engaging with their tenants.”
Landlords are therefore encouraged to take a common sense approach to property maintenance. Assessing whether the work required is essential to the safety and wellbeing of their tenants. In some instances, work could also be carried out by other methods such as virtually, or with a tenant’s assistance.
Limited face to face contact is of course the best way to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. If anyone in the property is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or self-isolating then any planned inspections or repairs should be rescheduled until it is safe to do so, unless this is to “remedy a direct risk that affects their safety or the safety of their household.” Landlords, agents and tenants must ensure that they are following the Government’s COVID-19 guidance at all times.
Before visiting the property to carry out any maintenance or an inspection, talk to your tenants to establish if anyone has been in contact with someone with coronavirus or if anyone is self-isolating. If this is the case, you will need to decide if the work can wait or if it absolutely should be addressed straight away.
If a tenant is self-isolating after displaying symptoms, an inspection should be postponed in accordance with the current government guidelines. You must also consider the additional needs for people who are vulnerable or in at-risk groups.
In the event that you need to postpone an inspection, keep a record of why you have done this and of your communications with tenants and the decisions that you’ve made.
FREE spring maintenance checklist
Download our handy spring property maintenance checklist
The importance of spring property inspections
While post-winter checks may not seem vital during this time – especially if landlords are contending with more pressing issues such as missed rental payments, tenant wellbeing and the impact of the pandemic on their own finances – they are key to ensuring landlords meet their property maintenance obligations, and also reduce the likelihood of further issues later in the year. Plus, some landlord insurance policies – including our own – will decline to pay out on certain claims if it can’t be proven that the property has been regularly inspected.
Working together with tenants, you may be able to conduct an improvised hybrid inspection to ensure that all your properties remain safe and comfortable for tenants now and for the months to come.
A year on from the very first COVID-19 lockdown you may have found new ways to adapt certain areas of property maintenance, such as collaborating with your tenants by enlisting their help to conduct a virtual property inspection or light maintenance.
Despite some triumphs, we recognise that not all landlord/tenant relationships will facilitate this kind of arrangement. The key to overcoming this COVID-19 specific issue is compromise, understanding and flexibility, from both sides.
Here are some practical tips to help plan your property maintenance inspection:
- Keep a property checklist so that you have a working and easily accessible record of property inspections throughout the year. This will help to ensure that you don’t miss any vital maintenance areas within the property, and it can serve as a useful record to share with your insurer if you are required to show that you have regularly inspected the property
- Make sure you communicate with your tenants. Having, and maintaining, a healthy relationship with your tenants can help to quickly identify and resolve any issues within the property before they escalate. During this complex time flexibility, understanding and collaboration are key. You may even be able to carry out ‘hybrid’ inspections with the help of some friendly tenants!
- Before you conduct your inspection, identify any key areas of concern within the property. For example, was mould build up an issue during your last inspection? Could guttering have become dislodged, or blocked, after a recent storm? This, alongside a property maintenance checklist, an example of which can be found at the end of this article, will help to save you time and focus your attention on the most important areas of the property.
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What should you look out for when carrying out a spring property inspection?
This review should include checks for:
Roof and guttering
Harsh winter weather can expose tiles and cladding or cause more severe damage to your roof. This means leaks, which can damage attics and soft furnishings and will likely lead to problems with damp if not taken care of promptly.
Similarly, it is important to check any guttering which may have become stuffed with leaves and other debris after the winter or been dislodged by heavy winds and rain. Despite the fact your tenants may be willing to lend a helping hand with an improvised property inspection this spring, landlords should not encourage tenants to undertake any potentially dangerous activities such as climbing onto the roof themselves. However, they may be able to see full gutters, missing tiles and damaged cladding from ground level and notify you about what they have found.
At the very least, they can let you know if there are any leaks on the inside of the property which may highlight a wider issue within the property, and you can arrange for a professional to check this safely.
Under one roof
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Over the cold winter weather pipes can suffer cracks, reduced flow, blockages or even worse, a burst pipe. Damage to pipework can be a disaster for your tenants and your property so spring is a great time to check that everything is flowing as it should be.
Remind tenants that they should notify you if they experience any reduction in water flow, as this could signify a bigger issue with the pipework in the property.
Remember to check external, as well as internal, pipes when carrying out an inspection.
Top tip: make sure that your tenants are aware of the location of the stopcock. In the event of a burst pipe this can be extremely effective in helping to keep damage to a minimum.
Wood rot, damp and mould
The switch from cold, wet weather to warmer temperatures creates the perfect environment for wood rot.
A spring property inspection should consider any areas of the property where protective paints or seals are used, and treat them before they get worse. If left unchecked, mould can quickly get worse and create an unhealthy and unpleasant environment for your tenants.
Landlords could ask tenants to identify any problems, and check whether they are willing to help treat the issue to avoid a non-urgent visit taking place.
As discussed, according to current guidance landlords can carry out both routine and essential inspections and repairs, providing that public health advice and COVID-19 legislation is followed.
However, if tenants are concerned about you carrying out work at this time, discuss this openly with them and seek out a compromise that works for your tenants’ needs, but also allows you to inspect and maintain the property in accordance with your responsibilities.
For example, you could provide your tenants with the paint and equipment needed to rectify the issues from a distance – perhaps leaving it on the doorstep or ordering it to be delivered to the property for them to carry out some light maintenance work on your behalf.
Top tip: don’t forget to keep a record of any maintenance carried out in the property, whether this was completed by you, a professional or your tenant(s).