On the 23rd March 2020, Boris Johnson placed the UK into Lockdown - something that was to become common place and a part of our day to day lives.
The Government put in place the Coronavirus Act 2020 and it was not clear from the outset how long or exactly what powers this legislation would present. From mandatory face coverings and social distancing to restrictions on how we were all required to live our lives, the emergency legislation’s objective was to enable the public sector to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. Some provisions implemented by the Act are permanent but others were temporary.and these temporary provisions have since expired. However, the legislation included what is known as a “Sunset clause” which sets a time limit on legislation, and makes “technical transitional, transitory and savings provisions,” if necessary, to cover a period beyond the two years.
The Impact of the Act on the Lettings Industry
The housing market shut down their face to face operations along with the rest of the UK in March 2020, moving from office premises to working from home (WFH), however, a surprise late night announcement on the 11th May 2020, gave letting agents, estate agents, chartered surveyors and other property professionals, the go ahead to resume office based activities providing restrictions were adhered to.
Technology saved the day
Agents embraced virtual valuations and viewings along with video being the chosen medium for tenants to report back for property inspections. E-Signature platforms such as DocuSign and AdobeSign made their presence felt as the execution of contracts shifted from the traditional “wet signature” to electronic signatures. Even the Law Commission were forced to re-think how a Deed could be valid without the presence of a witness.
Between 23rd March 2020 and 1st October 2021 letting agents and landlords were faced with 5 changes to the notice periods for Section 21 (Form 6A) and Section 8 (From 3) notices. This meant the publication of a new template document every time a change was made.
Suspension of Evictions
Whilst there was a misunderstanding among many landlords and letting agents that the Government had ‘banned’ the service of any notice from March 2020, this was never the case. Landlords and letting agents were able to serve notice for vacant possession or breach of contract, but any court claim issued would sit in a queue waiting for the stay to be lifted and for judges to resume dealing with claims for possession. As a result the courts began to experience a dam effect and a huge backlog that could only be addressed with the introduction of a new “protocol” which required landlords to put in a request to the courts for pre-pandemic court claims to be re-listed or forgotten. It is important to stress that even the most experienced of landlords and letting agents got lost in the quagmire of change.
The word ‘webinar” became a staple in every letting agents week. Whether the medium of choice was Zoom, Google Meet, TEAMS, the webinar was the only way to stay connected locally, regionally, nationally and globally. The property sector is a people based industry and so meetings, regional gatherings, training, award ceremonies, coaching, mentoring, motivational and inspirational talks , all crucial to the sector, shifted to online platforms. To begin with it was a novelty, but at the 12 month anniversary of the pandemic after a 3rd lockdown, fatigue began to set in. People like people and it was clear that the majority wanted to get back to the pre-pandemic way of engaging with colleagues and peers.
Demand outweighs Supply
Thenexodus from London as a result of the pandemic saw a substantial increase in the demand for properties with space to WFH, outside space, preferably a garden. Tenancies were longer as tenants stayed put and key workers moved to be close to their place of work and isolate from family and friends.
The workload for many letting agents increased overnight. The transition from office to working from home, navigating new processes, implementing tech, ensuring compliance could be adhered to whilst complying with the Coronavirus Act, keeping records up to date in the event that tenants refused access due to covid-19, and keeping employees engaged and aware as the pandemic unfolded.
Altruism and Making a Difference
Stephen Covey said “We develop our character muscles by overcoming challenges and adversity.” The pandemic presented challenges we could never have imagined yet it showed some human traits at their very best. Fundraising so children could have access to computers, food deliveries for the vulnerable and housebound, support for those suffering from mental health issues caused by isolation and fear, volunteering within communities. Selflessness rose to the surface.
Mackay Property started a fund called "Computers for Children" to encourage donations, in either monitary or technology forms, so that children could continue to be up to date with schoolwork throughout lockdown.
We hope that those who have suffered loss and tragedy can begin to heal, and we hope that the positive lessons we have learnt we will continue to embrace.