Easing out of lockdown and what it means for the property sector

By Amanda Hodgson

Following the implementation of lockdown restrictions on 23 March 2020, more than 450,000 people have been unable to progress their plans to move home, and high streets have been left deserted. Covid-19 has had a significant impact on both the commercial and residential property sector. Landlords and Tenants have been left facing financial hardship, and there has been a significant downturn in property transactions

 

This article will consider how both the commercial and residential property sector will operate during the Covid-19 pandemic, as we gently ease out of lockdown.

 

Boosting the High Street Commercial Sector

 

  • On 29 May 2020, the government announced that it has established a working group with the commercial rental sector, in order to develop a code of practice. The code was published on 19 June 2020 and has been endorsed by a number of organisations, including the British Chamber of Commerce and the British Property Federation.

 

  • The Code aims to encourage fair and transparent discussions between landlords and tenants over rental payments and to provide relevant guidance on payment of rent arrears. It is anticipated that this will be a temporary measure. However, the government may consider making the code mandatory if this is deemed to be necessary.

 

  • UK Finance issued guidance ahead of the code being published, having acknowledged that the June rent quarter date may cause financial stress on businesses. Both landlords and tenants are encouraged to engage with their lenders and finance providers to seek flexible support during this period.

 

  • The code will be a welcome intervention, as it will enable both landlords and tenants to work effectively throughout this challenging time and enter into sensible discussions. During this period, tenants are encouraged to pay rent where they can ease the financial burden on landlords.

 

  • The Taking Control of Goods and Certification of Enforcement Agents (Amendment) (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020, came into force on 24 April 2020. This changed the use of Commercial Rent Arrears Recovery (CRAR), by preventing landlords from seizing and selling goods using CRAR unless they are owed 90 days' of unpaid rent, this was subsequently increased to 189 days' from 24 June 2020. This is a significant increase from the previous 7 days' and provides tenants with some breathing space, should they run into financial difficulties.

 

  • The current moratorium, preventing the forfeiture of commercial leases for unpaid rent provided by Section 82 of the Coronavirus Act 2020, remains in force and has been extended until 30 September 2020. The government has the option to extend the period if required, which most tenants would welcome, bearing in mind businesses will be operating below capacity for several months following re-opening.

 

  • From 15 June 2020, non-essential retail has opened, and it is anticipated that this will be a positive step towards a slow recovery. However, figures have identified that the number of visitors to high streets and retail parks was one third lower than this time last year. It is therefore anticipated that it will take some time for footfall to return to normal levels and indeed, for shoppers to adjust to a new way of shopping during Covid-19.

 

  • From 4 July 2020, further businesses such as hair salons, barbers, hotels, pubs and restaurants were allowed to re-open, these business are also likely to face similar challenges. However, the recent reduction in the two metre social distancing rules to 1 metre plus, is likely to be a welcome introduction.

Residential Property Market

 

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government initially published guidance in respect to moving home during Covid-19 on 26 March 2020.

 

During the initial stages of lockdown, moving house was only permitted 'where reasonably necessary' under Section 6(2) of the Health Protection Coronavirus Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020. These regulations were amended with effect from 13 May 2020, by the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2020. Government guidance was subsequently updated on 21 May 2020. As a result of this, in England, the following are now permitted:

 

Visiting estate or letting agents, developer sales offices or show homes

 

  • Should you be buying a new build property, you should make contact with the developer in the usual way. You should be able to view the show home, subject to making an appointment in advance, and one household only will be allowed per viewing.

 

  • Estate agents should inform customers and staff about their procedures during Covid-19 and should operate an appointment system.

 

  • Estate agents should not drive clients to appointments.

 

Viewing residential properties to buy or rent

 

  • Any physical viewings should be limited to members of the same household, and open house viewings should not take place. Where at all possible, initial viewings should be carried out virtually.

 

  • If people are being shown around your home, you should open all internal doors and ensure that all surfaces are cleaned after each viewing.

 

  • It is recommended that you vacate your property while viewings are taking place to minimise contact with other people.

 

To prepare to buy or sell your home

 

  • Estate Agents are allowed to visit your home to take photos and videos of the property for marketing purposes.
  • Surveyors can attend properties to carry out surveys.
  • Removal firms are permitted to operate, but you should try and carry out as much of the packing yourself to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Fletcher Day can assist in providing flexible options and adapting relevant contractual provisions to meet the requirements of your transaction.

 

Both the residential and commercial sector has suffered significantly during the Covid-19 crisis. However, it is encouraging that both markets are now able to gradually start to move forward as we ease out of lockdown.

 

Should you have any queries relating to the matters raised in this article, please do not hesitate to contact Amanda Hodgson a Partner in the Commercial and Residential Property Department on 020 7632 1435.

 

19 June, 2020
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