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The last three or four weeks, unquestionably, have been one of the most life-changing times we have seen since WW2. The imminent threat of the Coronavirus has taken over the world, the UK and Runcorn and will challenge you, our families, our relationships and test us all.

The drive of this worldwide action of social distancing is not just to stop you from getting ill with the virus; the bigger drive is to slow down the development of this virus so the NHS will not become overwhelmed with those who are most likely to need hospital care. Yet the issue of social distancing has certainly raised many questions around the landlord/tenant/agent relationship, so in this article, I wanted to share with all the 988 Runcorn landlords their rights, obligations and responsibilities to their Runcorn tenants. I also wanted to highlight the rights, obligations and responsibilities of the 2,441 Runcorn tenants in return.

These will be trying times for Runcorn landlords and Runcorn tenants alike, so let’s start…

A landlord has the responsibility to ensure the property is fit for habitation, so what if the Runcorn landlord/agent is incapable of undertaking an emergency repair (or say the annual gas safety check) because the tenant is self-isolating or actually has the virus? The answer is the landlord should use their best efforts to fix the problem if it’s an urgent repair, yet if the landlord/agent is unable to do so, they should record this fact and that it is related to the Coronavirus epidemic. One should then re-try as soon as is possible and appropriate, having full respect for information on self-isolation, personal-safety and social-distancing and ensure that you make a written note for future issue. My advice is that you or your agent (as we are with our Runcorn tenants) need to uphold good lines of communication with the tenants touched by these current circumstances, so they are clear on what action you are taking and the timescales for this.

At the same time, there will be very few situations in the coming weeks when the contractors who the landlord/agent use will also be in self-isolation, meaning a handful of the 2,441 Runcorn tenants might have to wait for repairs to get sorted. We have some excellent Runcorn contractors with their own backup plans, and so together, we will use our best endeavours to find an alternative contractor to fix any issues. If your agent has issues, then maybe we can help – do call me. Whatever you do, if this occurs, document everything and that it is related to the Coronavirus epidemic.

The total rent paid by Runcorn tenants each month is £1,240,000

It’s true the UK government has demanded that building societies and banks give a three-month mortgage holiday to those landlords that are unable to make mortgage payments. This is not free cash; the mortgage payments are basically postponed with interest to be collected at the end of this crisis, meaning your obligation as a Runcorn tenant to pay the rent still exists. HM Government is offering employers an 80% wage support with the furloughing to avoid having to make people redundant, and the rent for your Runcorn rental home will be treated in the same way as the landlord’s mortgage.

The average Runcorn rental payment currently stands at £508 per month

Therefore, if you are incapable of being able to pay your rent, it will still build up and accumulate during this virus predicament, and you will need to start a payment plan to pay it back on top of your normal monthly rent.  So if your rent is £508pm and you have already been living there for 2 months into a 12-month tenancy, there is still £5,080 to be paid over the next 10 months. Should you not pay anything for 3 months your rent would increase by 43% a month for the last seven months, or you face eviction due to arrears (remember arrears have been put on hold – not removed during the virus outbreak). One option, subject to status and agreement by all parties, could be to renegotiate a new longer lease to pay off the arrears over a longer period. Again, the point here is communication from all sides – making sure there are no nasty surprises.

So, if you are in this predicament, there is a lot of help accessible from HM Government, including Universal Credit or Employment Support as soon as possible to escape any interruptions to your payments. Remember, your landlord will need proof of your Universal Credit, or Employment Support claims to give to their mortgage company to be able to start the mortgage holiday. My advice to all the 2,441 tenants in Runcorn is keep in contact with your agent to ensure your Runcorn landlord doesn’t suffer any avoidable hardship. This ultimately may end up with your home being repossessed because the mortgage payments were missed as you were unable to furnish the landlord with your own claim documents.

Communication is the #1 priority here. While most agent’s premises are closed including our own, all are open for email enquiries (telephone only in an emergency), with staff working from home. This is a fast-changing time for everybody. For the 988 Runcorn landlords and 2,441 Runcorn tenants, we will be ever vigilant to oversee the financial and monetary backdrop in the coming months.

These are going to be tough times for the people of Runcorn (and the world), financially and mentally. However, together we will come out of this stronger. By working in partnership, keeping lines of communication open with regards to your finances and your housing, by keeping safe and protecting our families and most of all by being kind to each other, we will get through this. We might be a little battered and bruised afterwards – yet hopefully better human beings for it?