Estate and Letting Agents can (Partially) Re-Open for Business

13th May 2020 Commercial Litigation

Rather unexpectedly the government has given the green light for estate and letting agencies to start getting back to work. The Covid-19 emergency has caused pain in a large number of industries but estate and lettings agency have been very severely affected as they are effectively unable to operate at all except in the most limited manner. Due to the lead times involved in property sales and lettings they will also take longer to get back up and running.

However, the government has made amendments to the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 in the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2020 which come into force on 13 May 2020. Some of these amendments, such as the increase in fines on people acting outside the terms of the lockdown, were expected as the Prime Minister made reference to them the other day. What was not expected was the changes to the list of reasonable excuses which now include (among other things):

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;

Essentially this appears to mean that people can visit an estate or letting agent or do a viewing and that landlords and agents can do anything required to prepare a property for sale or rental.

This is a little bit inconsistent. For example, it appears from guidance and other parts of the same regulations that estate and lettings agents offices are supposed to be closed. But the change in the regulations that allows people to travel to an estate or letting agent office clearly implies that these premises are allowed to open. The guidance on moving homes is also hard to square with this. That guidance bans market appraisals. However, the new guidance says that people can do anything required to prepare a property for sale, which arguably includes a market appraisal.

Even as I was writing this the government has produced guidance which reiterates that estate and letting agents can open, as can their offices, and that other essential parts of the sector including removal firms can open.

It is important to bear in mind that social distancing requirements will still apply and that guidance on providing a safe working environment will need to be observed.

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David Smith is a Partner located in Londonin our Commercial Litigation department

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