How to view a home to rent or buy depending on the Covid tier you're in

THE Consumer Crew are here to solve your problems.

Mel Hunter will take on readers’ consumer issues, Jane Hamilton will give you the best advice for buying your dream home, and Judge Rinder will tackle your legal woes.

Jane Hamilton, Property expert

WITH millions of us back in some form of lockdown, what does it mean for property viewings? Can you still see a home to rent or buy?

We’ve teamed up with property portal Zoopla to reveal what you can and can’t do.

Tier 1 medium alert: Property viewings can continue as long as anti-coronavirus measures are taken and there are no more than six people in the property at one time.

Measures include wearing face coverings, regular hand washing and keeping doors and windows open for good ventilation during the viewing.

On top on this, only two prospective buyers from the same household can enter the property at a time. Open house viewings are not allowed.

If any member of either the household being viewed, or the household viewing, shows symptoms of Covid-19, or is self-isolating, then an in-person viewing should be delayed.

Tier 2 – high alert: In-person property viewings can still take place with appropriate precautions.

However the ban on meeting people outside of your household or support bubble indoors means some buyers or sellers may decide to halt property viewings or do them online only.

Tier 3 – very high alert: Although government guidelines don’t currently state that in-person viewings are banned in tier three regions, in many cases estate agents, sellers and buyers are deciding against going to see properties.

Scotland: In-person property viewings are permitted, but the Government recommends viewing online first and only looking in-person if you are interested in making an offer.

Wales: An in-person viewing must be conducted according to Covid safety with a virtual viewing first.

Northern Ireland: A virtual viewing should be held first. In-person viewings must be conducted Covid-safely with no more than two people from a household attending.

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Judge Rinder, legal expert

Q) I HAVE two children with my ex-wife. Under the terms of our separation I am meant to have them for the weekend every two weeks.

But in recent months, my ex keeps saying they are isolating due to Covid just days before my weekend.

It’s happened too many times for me to believe she is genuine and I know she’s just trying to spite me.

I’m desperate to see my kids – what can I do? James, London

A) It is very important that you (and others in your situation) understand your legal rights.

Unlike a great deal of the Government’s lockdown rules, the law relating to child custody arrangements during the pandemic are perfectly clear.

The usual contact arrangements that you have with your ex partner remain in place.

The only grounds a parent may have to refuse access is if the child is legitimately required to isolate (ie. because your ex has been notified that they may have been exposed to the virus).

It sounds to me that your ex partner may be using the current situation as a means of preventing you from seeing your children, which is unlawful.

Write to your ex (as kindly as you can) reminding her that unless she can prove that your children are required to isolate for a valid reason, then you are legally entitled to see them.

Make clear that you will do whatever you can to make arrangements to collect your children in a Covid-safe way.

If she continues to restrict your access to your children, you may have to take her to court and get an order but you must do all you can in the meantime (despite her behaviour) to avoid this.

Bro will woe

Q) MY brother and I are joint executors and beneficiaries of my father’s will.

We set up a joint account for the monies from his estate which we then plan to share between us.

However, my brother has taken more than his 50 per cent share from the account.

I raised this with him and he says he needs the money now but will pay me back.

I am not confident he will. What should I do? Lee, Cornwall

A) This is an urgent situation. You are entitled to an equal share of everything and your brother is not lawfully allowed to take more than his portion without your agreement.

You need to write to your brother making clear that he is in breach of his legal duty to the estate and to you, and so he will need to pay the money back as soon as possible.

Tell him that, although you understand he may need this money, he was not lawfully entitled to take it without your explicit consent.

If he refuses to pay the money back you may have to get lawyers involved.

They could get an order against him but unless the situation gets worse, I would do everything to avoid this .

Q) I’VE been renting a room from my mate for the last six months.

This week he announced he wants me to move out and has given me ten days to do so, because he wants to move his brother in instead.

I don’t have a tenancy agreement as it was all done informally but ten days isn’t enough time for me to find somewhere else.

Do I have any rights? Dave, Milton Keynes

A) It was a seriously bad idea for you to move into your friend’s property without a written contract as this is precisely the sort of thing that can happen.

By law, you are are lodger or “licensee” in your friend’s house so – tenancy agreement or not – your friend is required to give you a reasonable notice period before making you move out.

Ten days is, in any view, totally unreasonable. The legally required notice period is usually 28 days (or one calendar month) in a situation like this.

Tell your friend that you are legally entitled to more time than he is offering but indicate that you will do what you can to move within the next month.

Try to avoid conflict if you can, but do not let him force you out. He is totally in the wrong.

Mel Hunter, Reader's champion

Q) HAVING booked Avis car hire through a broker, I paid an additional amount for excess refund insurance.

I felt relaxed knowing I could claim back costs if there was an incident abroad.

Picking up the car in Italy with my wife and three children, I showed the full rental agreement to the service representative who clearly stated, “This is excellent, you already have full insurance cover and you do not need anything else.”

He then pointed to documentation on a tablet and asked me to sign what, in hindsight, was the Italian version of the additional charges page.

On dropping off the car, I learned that he had added three additional products including an excess waiver amounting to almost £400.

The entire car hire only cost £567 and I would not have agreed to add these products given I had specifically purchased an excess cover product before my departure. Ross, Surrey

A) As one of the families who got away this summer, you considered yourself lucky – until these unexpected charges took the shine off your trip.

Avis initially wouldn’t budge, insisting that the costs were correct and that you would have had the opportunity to question any additional fees when presented with the agreement and after signing.

It said the charges had been sent to you in English, but you insist you did not see these up front and it was only when you reviewed your emails later that you saw the extra costs that had been added.

While tackling your case, I received a spookily similar account from another reader about their Avis rental, this time in Croatia.

I am pleased to say that eventually Avis refunded both of you. A spokesperson said: “We always encourage our customers to fully review their rental agreement. As a gesture of goodwill, we have reimbursed the customers for their additional charges.” 

Q) OUR flight to Australia was cancelled due to coronavirus.
Travlock, who we booked through, will just not return our £2,181 owed to us.

We don’t want a voucher as it was a one-off trip to visit our son, who will be returning to the UK this year.

Neither our insurer nor the bank will help, so have we lost all our money? Gerri, Leeds

A) At the start Travlock told me that Qantas was offering vouchers, but I insisted the online agent sort out the refund that I knew you were entitled to.

Travlock then insisted it was chasing Qantas to get your money back. I then approached the airline myself.

It struggled to find your flights, eventually claiming that Qantas had never received the money to honour the booking so it was cancelled due to funds not being paid.

This begged the question of where your £2,000-plus actually was.

Travlock, for its part, insisted it had validated that the flights had been booked and paid for through its supplier, and it eventually refunded almost all your cash.

After a five-month wait, with me on the case for the last three, you were just relieved to get the lion’s share back.

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