12/05/2020

This is how it ends, not with a bang but a viewing.

If I am honest, this is not how I anticipated the apocalypse to look. The streets deserted apart from roving estate agents, dead eyes above the mask, looking for someone, anyone, to force into a viewing in an enclosed space.

But that is what the Government has given us with the forthcoming Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2020. Under the revised list of reasonable excuses to leave where you are living are:

(l) to undertake any of the following activities in connection with the purchase, sale, letting or rental of a residential property—
(i) visiting estate or letting agents, developer sales offices or show homes;
(ii) viewing residential properties to look for a property to buy or rent;
(iii) preparing a residential property to move in;
(iv) moving home;
(v) visiting a residential property to undertake any activities required for the rental or sale of that property;”;

(l)(v) would seem to cover a lot of ground, including, as someone suggested to me, a visit by bailiffs for eviction. Or maybe an attendance for repairs during a tenancy.  But there we are. Fancy a move? Off you go to look at properties, accompanied at a safe distance by your estate agent in a decorating mask.

Given that the Secretary of State for Housing has apparently said that whether the ban on evictions would be extended was reliant on ‘medical evidence’, one might start to see a picture coming together. Let loose the letting agents! Let them roam the silenced streets!

Still, (l)(ii) needs prompt clarification. Does this extend to viewings of tenanted properties? If so, what, exactly is the safe procedure and requirements? How many strangers turning up should tenants put up with? If any?

What if the tenant (or anyone in the household) is self isolating, or in a vulnerable category? Because, let us be honest, as a class letting agents are not known for the subtlety, accuracy and thoughtfulness with which they interpret rules.

Update – 13/05/2020. MHCLG have issued guidance. Which includes this:

  • If your property is being viewed, you should open all the internal doors prior to the viewing, and allow access to handwashing facilities and ideally separate towels/paper towels.
  • As most people choose to do, we encourage that you vacate your property whilst viewings are taking place in order to minimise your contact with those not in your household.
  • When viewing a property, all parties should wash their hands and avoid touching surfaces where possible. Agents will ask you to restrict the number of people who accompany you on a viewing so that social distancing can be practised, and only those in your immediate household should be there.
  • We expect agents to accompany clients on a viewing but follow social distancing rules wherever possible. Where viewings are unaccompanied, agents should make sure viewers and homeowners understand how they should conduct themselves.
  • Once the viewing has taken place, the homeowner should ensure surfaces, such as door handles, are cleaned with standard household cleaning products and towels disposed of safely or washed as appropriate.

Follow social distancing rules ‘wherever possible’? People will be using the occupants’ sinks and towels? Are people to bring their own soap?!

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.

21 Comments

  1. Declan Shine

    Giles, I’m worried that your coverage is a little partial. You fail to mention that in addition to the amended regulations, the government has told those in England to stay alert. You can therefore rely on Estate Agents to use their famous common sense.

    Reply
    • Michael Barnes

      A bit more than a little; it is total misrepresentation.
      Giles has, for some reason, interpreted it as “people now have the right to do these things”, not as “if you do these things, then you have a defence against penalties under the corona virus legislation”.

      Reply
      • Giles Peaker

        Answered in my previous reply. Being permitted to travel for that reason will undoubtedly be used as ‘we are entitled to do this’.

        As to tenants’ wishes – I think Eighteen illustrates the problem. ‘If there is someone self-isolating in a property then quite simply viewings cannot take place’. Well, yes – but there remain all the other tenants who quite reasonably won’t want strangers and agents wandering around their home at this point (even assuming that social distancing can be maintained with viewer, agent and tenant(s) in the space). Eighteen’s assumption is that short of self-isolation, it goes ahead.

        There will be a lot of refusals of access, I expect.

        Reply
      • Declan Shine

        I’m sorry to have to state this, but I was attempting irony – if I have to explain that, I have clearly failed!

        Reply
        • Michael Barnes

          I received sarcasm, not irony.

  2. RD

    I was asked about this last night (what with Robert Jenrick’s briefing to the press – along the lines of “let slip the dogs of property commerce!” no doubt – coming some hours ahead of the actual Regulations). I thought at the time “surely this is a wind-up?”

    It’s perhaps not appropriate for me to come over all political right now, but it seems utterly bizarre that a family member cannot go and visit their parents at home, but a complete stranger can (in the company of the estate agent no less) if the parents’ landlord decides that now is a good time market the property.

    Presumably an unhappy tenant could turn round and say “I’m not letting anyone in, even though the tenancy agreement obliges me to. By all means serve a section 8/section 21 Notice on me, and we’ll discuss it further in three months’ time.” Not the best protection if they want to keep their home long-term, but it does at least buy them 3+ months of peaceable enjoyment – free of strangers’ germs.

    Reply
    • Michael Barnes

      If the LL wants to market the property, then it would seem that the prospects to “keep their home long-term” are not good anyway.

      Reply
  3. Eighteen

    You wrote: “Because, let us be honest, as a class letting agents are not known for the subtlety, accuracy and thoughtfulness with which they interpret rules.”

    What a crass generalisation! I know many letting agents who are subtle, accurate and thoughtful – and actually very helpful to both tenants and landlords.

    Need I remind you that when it comes to stereotypes *LAWYERS* fare far worse than letting agents? So please stop this nonsense.

    Or perhaps the real issue is that you would like the whole of the UK to become a giant council estate?

    Re. covid-19, it is patently obvious that social distancing rules apply to viewings, so if there is somebody self-isolating in a property, then quite simply viewings cannot take place. As you obviously consider yourself subtle, accurate and thoughtful when you interpret rules, I wonder how you could miss that.

    Reply
      • Eighteen

        Think about it. A letting agent can easily show a vacant property while keeping at a safe distance. No letting agent I know wants to take risks.

        Reply
        • RD

          Well, my comment was based on having been asked to provide legal advice to someone whose landlord had seen the Government’s announcement yesterday, and was proposing letting people look around the property while my client was in residence.

          So having thought about it, I know at least one letting agent who explicitly *is* wanting to take such risks. Were I to make a generalisation based on a sample size of one – and one is all I have, but give it time (the changes have been in force for less than 24 hours, after all) I’d be sorely tempted to say that Giles’ words, that “as a class letting agents are not known for the subtlety, accuracy and thoughtfulness with which they interpret rules”, would appear to be on the money.

        • Eighteen

          So you’d be tempted to make a gross generalisation… based on a sample of one! Really?

          I know a lot of letting/estate agents, and none of them want to take risks.

    • AH

      Do your concerns about the UK becoming a giant council estate relate to stereotypes about council estates?

      Reply
      • Eighteen

        No. If all housing were council-owned there would be no letting agents operating anywhere.

        Reply
    • Giles Peaker

      It was expressly a generalisation. But I’m not sure you are quite displaying those qualities here.

      Reply
      • Eighteen

        “It was expressly a generalisation.” Yes, based on stereotypes. As for my qualities, I can subtly, accurately and thoughtfully discern the bias and arrogance in your words.

        Perhaps you should be more thoughtful next time you feel like spouting another generalisation.

        Oh, and I think an apology to letting agents is in order here.

        Reply
  4. Robert Crossland

    I wonder how this will be interpreted for the spaces occupied by property guardians in commercial or industrial buildings

    Reply
  5. Michael Barnes

    (1)(iii) and (i)(v) were allowed under previous legislation, just not explicitly stated, because it was not a banned business and it was work for a business.

    Re ” (l)(ii) needs prompt clarification”: This legislation says (in effect” “If the police stop you, then this is a reason not to be prosecuted under the legislation”. It does not say “You have the absolute right to do this regardless of tenants’ wishes”.

    Reply
    • Giles Peaker

      Moving house where reasonably necessary was a specified reasonable excuse. I have doubts whether (iii) and (v) would have fallen under the previous (f) travel for the purposes of work where not reasonably possible to work from home. Clearly, so did the drafters of this amendment.

      (l)(ii) – I agree that is the effect. It will, however, certainly be used in a ‘see, we can do this’ way. Hence the point of clarification.

      Reply
  6. Geoff

    Any thoughts on what it means for people in HMOs with a spare room (let on separate ASTs but with shared bathrooms and kitchens), where landlord wants to move someone in – and rest of residents don’t!

    Reply
  7. RD

    Updated guidance on house moves here:
    https://www.gov.uk/guidance/government-advice-on-home-moving-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak

    It does look like whatever other restrictions are in place, I can now visit my mom in her own home. So long as I’m interested in buying her house off her, rather than just for a social visit. Do any of the criminal practitioners have any advice as to whether my offer has to be in writing to evidence the “reasonable excuse” under the Regs?

    Reply

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