Everyone is doing their best to weather the coronavirus storm but it’s fair to say we’re not all in the same boat.
While some are enjoying furlough-funded me time, others are struggling with redundancy, childcare challenges and mental health issues.
Do you know what kind of boat your tenants are in? As a landlord, you can play your part in making sure they can ride the waves of this crisis as comfortably as possible.
How Landlords Are Helping During the Crisis
Research by the Mental Health Foundation shows that one third of UK adults are worried about their ability to pay bills and manage debt during the pandemic.
A further 20% are concerned about losing their job and, among the unemployed, 26% say they aren’t coping well with the stress created by lockdown measures.
Around the country, there are stories of generous landlords, aware of this growing trend, doing what they can to support tenants. From delivering food parcels to those self-isolating to arranging rent holidays, they’re doing what they can to spread a little kindness.
Some have gone one step further and offered free accommodation to NHS workers who need to relocate or stay away from family. The site NHS Homes connects health workers with landlords willing to offer properties for free or next to nothing. Around 400 homes are now listed worth a combined total of £1.2m rent per month.
Airbnb has set up a similar scheme with a goal of helping 100,000 frontline staff across the world access free accommodation.
But if your own financial circumstances make that kind of commitment difficult, what else can you do to help?
Understand Your Tenants’ Situation
Under normal circumstances, the relationship you have with tenants may be somewhat distant. If you use a letting agent, you may have never even met them.
Or perhaps you know your tenants well and speak regularly. If they’re disabled, for instance, you’re likely to have more direct contact and offer more support.
Whatever the existing relationship, now is the time to get to know them and understand their personal situation. There’s no legal obligation here, it’s a matter of compassion. Positioning yourself as someone who cares can only benefit the longer-term landlord-tenant relationship.
While generating income from your property will still be a key priority, asking them some important questions will allow you to balance this financial goal with their own unique needs:
Have they been furloughed or made redundant?
Is there a chance they could lose their job in the near future?
How will this affect their ability to pay rent on time?
Are they already struggling to pay you?
Are they physically well or do they suspect they have Covid-19?
Are they self-isolating?
Are they feeling stressed, anxious or worried?
Are there any maintenance issues that need resolving?
Are they happy for you to enter the property, following all necessary guidelines, for repairs or checks if required?
Equipped with this information, you’ll be in a better position to give them the leeway they need to protect their mental health. And together you can come up with workable solutions to any issues that could threaten their wellbeing.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
As lockdown continues and what is and isn’t allowed changes, keeping in touch with your tenants is crucial. Their circumstances could change quickly, for example they may be told their job is no longer tenable which could then affect your own income.
Communicating regularly, whether over the phone, via email or by video call, can help you both understand the intricacies of the situation and your own points of view. This will make reaching mutually agreeable decisions much easier.
For example, if you need to inspect a property, make sure you give your tenant enough notice and reassure them you’ll follow all social distancing advice. Delay the visit if anyone at the property is self-isolating.
If they’re resistant to anyone entering the property, listen to their concerns and be supportive. Regarding gas and electric checks, government advice states that: “If a landlord can show they have taken all reasonable steps to comply with their duty under the regulations, they are not in breach of the duty.” So keep a record of the relevant correspondence and revisit again as the situation evolves.
If you have elderly or other vulnerable tenants, this communication could be a lifeline. Consider anything you could do to ease their concerns and make life a little easier. A regular phone call to check in or offering to do their food shop will often be welcomed.
Be Flexible with Rent Payments
When you’re aware of your tenants’ personal circumstances and are communicating with them, you should have good insight into their financial situation.
And you’ll also know if they’re going to struggle to pay their rent. Perhaps they’ve lost their job, have had their hours reduced or are just scraping by on their furloughed income.
If your own finances allow, it’s a good plan to be flexible with their upcoming payment commitments. If you need their rent money to pay your own mortgage and bills, explain this to them clearly and calmly.
Whether or not they feel able to directly ask you for help, discussing options together will facilitate reaching a mutually beneficial solution.
The Residential Landlords’ Association is encouraging landlords to support their tenants financially during this challenging time.
If you’re in a position to do it, offering them a rental holiday will give them the breathing space they need to get back on their feet. Your kindness will reduce stress, boost your own mental wellbeing and bolster the landlord-tenant relationship.
Always make sure you put this agreement in writing and draw up a detailed repayment plan to be met when their income returns to normal.
As we all continue to adapt to life under lockdown, your role as a landlord will also need to flex. When you strive to understand your tenants’ personal situation and tailor your support based on individual needs, you can be assured you’re doing all you can to be responsible, compassionate and professional.
Keep up with all the latest advice for landlords on MakeUrMove’s blog.