This is an unprecedented time for most if not all of us. Since the government's call for self-isolation and shielding began earlier in March, many business and personal activities have come to a halt. There have been numerous reports contemplating whether repairs and maintenance works should carry on with them not explicitly named as an 'essential service'. Some expressed an opinion that all works should be delayed.
Recent government guidance finally put to bed the confusion:
"Work carried out in people’s homes, for example by tradespeople carrying out repairs and maintenance, can continue, provided that the tradesperson is well and has no symptoms.
Again, it will be important to ensure that Public Health England guidelines, including maintaining a 2 metre distance from any household occupants, are followed to ensure everyone’s safety.
No work should be carried out in any household which is isolating or where an individual is being shielded, unless it is to remedy a direct risk to the safety of the household, such as emergency plumbing or repairs, and where the tradesperson is willing to do so. In such cases, Public Health England can provide advice to tradespeople and households.
No work should be carried out by a tradesperson who has coronavirus symptoms, however mild."
Further MHCLG guidance issued on the subject of property access for repairs & maintenance during the ongoing pandemic reconfirms the fact that the outbreak is not a valid reason for landlords and thus their agents to neglect repair requests from occupiers (see "3.8 What does the current situation mean for repairs to my property?").
"Landlords’ repair obligations have not changed. Tenants have a right to a decent, warm and safe place to live – and it is in the best interests of both tenants and landlords to ensure that properties are kept in good repair and free from hazards....
...Where reasonable and safe for you, and in line with other Government guidance, you should make every effort to review and address issues brought to your attention by your tenants, and keep records of your efforts. ...
...However, in these unprecedented times we encourage tenants and landlords to take a pragmatic, common-sense approach to non-urgent issues which are affected by COVID-19 related restrictions...
...Urgent health and safety issues are those which will affect your tenant’s ability to live safely and maintain their mental and physical health in the property. This could include (but is not limited to):
- If there is a problem with the fabric of the building, for example the roof is leaking
- If your boiler is broken, leaving your tenant without heating or hot water
- If there is a plumbing issue, meaning your tenant does not have washing or toilet facilities
- If the white goods such as fridge or washing machine have broken, meaning the tenant is unable to wash clothes or store food safely
- If there is a security-critical problem, such as a broken window or external door
- If equipment a disabled person relies on requires installation or repair."
How does this affect...
Property Managers in Privately Rented Properties?
ARLA Propertymark released a statement today resonating the new government guidance.
In a nutshell, agents and landlords are allowed to carry out repairs and maintenance tasks as they would normally. In this article, Novel Coronavirus and Safety Certificates, David Smith, solicitor and Policy Director of RLA, explained landlords' unmoved liability to renew expiring gas safety certificates amidst the ongoing crisis.
Put simply, the coronavirus outbreak has not waived landlords of their duty of care, so where possible, they (and their appointed agents) should arrange for contractors to attend to repairs. They should take multiple attempts in both gaining access and sourcing contractors. All this should be evidenced so that they have an auditable paper trail. This is especially important for statutory safety checks but also applies to reactive repairs. The main point of consideration here is to take a risk-based approach and follow government guidance. Property managers should make sure that the contractor they appoint is "well and has no symptoms". This can be done by carrying out a risk assessment for each repair (more on this is discussed in this article, Property Management in the Age of COVID-19).
Contractors should be advised to minimise contact with occupiers. Occupiers should be advised to stay in a room away from the area where the repair or servicing will take place. They can also open windows for ventilation. Contractors should avoid greetings on arrival and leave their coats and shoes near the entrance. When the contractor has left, the occupier should disinfect all door handles and surfaces. We have prepared some tips and templates for this purpose which are available here.
Block Managers in Leasehold Properties?
ARMA has published a set of guidelines for property managers and anyone can access the document for free.
They advise property managers looking after residential leasehold buildings to continue carrying out planned maintenance works especially around statutory fire testing now that most households are staying in. Services such as waste management, water supplies and cleanliness would also need to be maintained with residents spending much more time at home. Lifts which are due an inspection may need to be isolated from use due to insurance policy considerations. More about this is detailed in ARMA's guidelines.
IRPM has an update on the issue with additional reference to an interview given by Robert Jenrick MP this week on BBC Radio4. The Secretary of State at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) stressed that contractors should continue to work on site to ensure the maintenance of buildings for fire safety and sanitation reasons and for cladding remediation works to continue, provided the work is done in accordance with Public Health England guidance, i.e. 2 metre distancing, etc.
DISCLAIMER: This article is intended for information only. It does not constitute legal advice and Fixflo does not accept liability based on this article. Please note that the situation is evolving rapidly and readers are advised to follow the latest government guidelines in their regions.