Coronavirus: considerations for landlords
The number of coronavirus infections may be stabilising, but the virus is continuing to spread throughout the world, leaving a question mark over who is responsible (and if anyone is under any obligation) to limit exposure and infection. Decisive actions are being taken by governments to bring the outbreak under control, but no guidance has been published by regulatory bodies (eg Public Health England) relating to landlords and service providers in particular. While this update is not intended to give legal advice and should not be regarded as a comprehensive assessment of the advice already published in this area, it warns that the situation surrounding responsibility needs to be actively monitored.
Landlords with a controlling interest over a property and who provide services (cleaning, maintenance) may have obligations to tenants and occupiers. Landlords operating in a capacity as management company may have obligations in relation to common or retained parts of a building, and employer landlords may have obligations to staff in occupation, or at least more obligations than landlords acting solely in their capacity as freehold owner of a building.
Coronavirus may at first appear to be a health and safety matter, but setting standards in relation to the virus is potentially outside the scope of health and safety good practice. As the virus is said to be passed by human-to-human contact, the construction and organisational facilities of a building (in and of themselves) are unlikely to be directly related to transmission and infection. Historically, standards established in relation to potential outbreaks have been set out by dedicated public health bodies, such as Public Health England and the Department for Health and Social Care and landlords would be well advised to monitor ongoing developments, perhaps by appointing someone to adopt a watching-brief over any changes to, for example, Public Health England’s current recommendations. Those recommendations that appear applicable should be implemented. Additionally, landlords should be minded not to wrongfully evict tenants and occupiers returning from countries which have been affected by the outbreak.
A UK-wide public information campaign has been launched to advise members of the public on how to protect themselves from infections, but the uncertainty surrounding the spread of the virus remains, as does where the responsibility for reducing transmission/infection lies.
For more guidance, and further information, visit our Coronavirus hub.