It is almost - if not completely - unheard of, for the Government to intervene in property matters. The pace of change is almost glacial but Covid-19 is turning all of that on its head. Here are some key points on property matters for educational establishments to consider:
Boarding school and mainstream FE college residential provision under the age of 18 years
If a pupil presents symptoms, the residential facility at the institution should remain open for the period of self-isolation. As far as possible, the setting should ensure pupils are looked after by staff. Where this is not possible, a staff rota must be operated to minimise risk of transmission. Safety and welfare of the pupils must be paramount at all times.
Over 18 years student accommodation
For those students who are unable to return home - for example, international students, care leavers, and those estranged from their families - the Government is asking institutions to operate a “non-eviction” policy. No student should be required to leave halls if their contract is up or if their rental agreement does not cover holiday periods. This applies whether or not students are self-isolating.
Institutions with private hall provider nomination agreements should “leverage” their relationships to avoid evictions, although what this means in practice is uncertain. One such provider, Unite, is advising that, if students do not intend to remain in their accommodation next term, they must be notified by 10 April 2020 and no further rent will be due.
Where no nomination agreement exists, institutions should seek to ensure that the private halls provider has a solution in place to prevent any student from being made homeless.
What none of the legislation seen so far deals with is what happens to any accommodation-related costs. Educational institutions levying a charge for accommodation are going to have to make a decision on how they deal with accommodation charges for the remainder of the academic year.
Commercial properties – as tenants and landlords
On 23 March 2020, the Government issued the Coronavirus Bill which includes emergency measures to help business tenants by preventing the forfeiture of business tenancies during the coronavirus emergency. It is currently anticipated that the following measures will be in force until 30 June 2020, with the power to extend:
No forfeiture for rent arrears by peaceable re-entry
But this is not the end of the story and both tenants and landlords need to know that options such as commercial rent arrears recovery, action against a guarantor and rent deposits do still exist and anyone affected by these issues should contact us for further advice.
Construction projects and development
At the time of writing (Tuesday 24 March), there is mounting pressure on the Government to act to protect construction works against the coronavirus and this may well result in construction sites being closed for the foreseeable figure.
Educational institutions may want to think carefully about their responsibilities here and take advice on how any such measures will affect existing construction contracts.
Practicalities of signing
Property law remains some distance behind other practice areas when it comes to the acceptance of electronic signatures on documents. It remains the case that the vast majority of property documents need to be signed as “wet ink” copies.
Given Covid-19’s potential impact on people’s ability to sign, institutions may want to look again at their list of authorised signatories and, if necessary, take steps to give specific powers of attorney to others such as their solicitors or accountants.