When the Government’s lockdown response to the pandemic was first actioned in March of this year, it was to be expected that any repairs that landlords had agreed to make to a tenant’s home could be delayed during the initial six week lockdown and possibly thereafter. Whilst the threat of transmission undoubtedly continues, and is likely to for some time, can a landlord still call upon COVID-19 as an excuse to obfuscate repair obligations under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985?
In practice, we have frequently seen landlords seek to rely on the virus as a justification for only allowing urgent repair works to take place, following the ease of lockdown. Urgent works are generally categorised as works required as there is an immediate health and safety implication. This stance is not in line with Government guidance for working in other people’s homes, which suggests that all works can be done subject to complying with safety measures. See here for more information.
The Government further clarified this position on 18 May 2020 in its letter from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to all social housing residents. This confirmed that ‘As we start to ease lockdown measures, landlords should be able to carry out routine as well as essential repairs for most households’ this is with the caveat that protective measures are adhered to (remaining at a distance; wearing masks etc.) and, obviously, that repairs are not undertaken if a person is self-isolating.
With localised lockdowns still taking place throughout the UK, it is clear that landlords must remain vigilant and abreast of their local news when completing repairs/ undertaking home inspections so as not to put any vulnerable tenants at risk. However, it is also clear that solely relying on the existence of the pandemic, some months after the initial outbreak, as a way to deny tenants home repairs is not defensible.