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One of the biggest unintended consequences of the pandemic, perhaps, has been an acceleration of the tech revolution by at least five years and greater use of contactless, paperless solutions as touching and face-to-face contact have necessarily been stripped back.

In order to prevent the spread of the disease, we’ve all been advised at various points to stay home, wear masks, keep our distance and be careful when it comes to handling change/notes and having face-to-face meetings with people outside of our household.

Even as the country opens back up and lockdown slowly but surely eases, with all legal restrictions now removed, there are likely to be long-term legacies of the pandemic.

But could one of these be a more streamlined, paperless, contactless PRS? Here, we take a closer look.

The speeding up of an existing trend

Even before the pandemic, society had been moving in the direction of becoming far more paperless and contactless. Whether it be tapping in using our bank cards or phones on the Tube and National Rail rather than using a paper ticket, using the card-only self-service checkout machines in shops and supermarkets, or getting our bank statements sent online rather than in paper form, there have been shifts to making life more contact and paper-free.

People can now pay for their parking from an app rather than needing to worry about using a machine, and there are even trials of stores – again, in the offing pre-Covid – where people no longer need to visit the tills, with all their purchases tracked in real-time by tech. In addition, there are an increasing number of hotels which offer a contactless, paperless check-in process.

There had also been a shift towards more paperless and contactless processes in the rental sector, too, pre-Covid, but it hadn’t been widely taken up.

Since the onset of the pandemic, though, virtual viewings and Right to Rent checks via video calls have become standard practice, out of necessity. In the case of Right to Rent, the use of video calls rather than face-to-face, in-person checks has been extended until August 31, to give letting agents and landlords more certainty.

Meanwhile, there have been many examples of tenants moving into a new property without ever meeting the letting agent or landlord in advance.

It’s common in the short-let sector for homes let on Airbnb and other sites to have key codes or key apps, to minimise the need for someone to be there to let a person in. This is starting to happen more in the traditional lettings sector, and has again been accelerated by Covid.

The pandemic has made the need for contactless viewings and contactless access much more important, for obvious reasons, and many expect this to continue even once lockdown has been completely lifted and life returns to something closer to normal.

We know that the majority of tenants hail from the younger generations – the millennials and Generation Zers – and such tenants are used to doing things in a contactless way, from banking and shopping to controlling their heating via their smartphone. As such, they won’t be afraid of paperless and contactless solutions, because they are very used to these ways of doing things.

Even now, the lettings sector is still heavily paper-based, but there have been an increasing number of tech solutions in recent years to ensure letting agents and landlords become far more paperless.

The video Right to Rent checks, using scanned and photographed documents rather than physical versions of these, have shown that a paperless system can work effectively, and there have been calls for this to continue post-pandemic.

There’s an environmental and sustainability angle to all this, as well, with agents and landlords able to show their green credentials by moving away from a paper-based system to something that doesn’t require physical documents and the wasting of paper.

How can the rental sector become paperless and contactless?

We now use apps and the internet to buy and deliver our weekly shop, order our weekend takeaways and send birthday cards and wedding invitations, so why can’t we use an app for the whole rental process?

Here at Canopy, for example, our app allows tenants to prove they’re reliable renters without having to fill in any time-consuming paperwork, allowing them to move in faster and easier. This is great news not only for the tenant, but landlords and their agent too.

The idea of rental passports – sometimes also known as lifetime deposits – has been given much more coverage recently as it forms a key part of the government’s plans to reform the rental sector, but it’s something that has been in the market for some time already.

It allows landlords, or you as the agent on their behalf, to qualify tenants in only seconds, by seeing a full view of their rental history. It will quickly be clear if a tenant is good and reliable, which will reduce the chances of problem tenants and other issues further down the line. What’s more, it reduces the chances of rental arrears being a major problem at a later date.

There is no reason why the rental sector can’t have apps that makes the process more interactive, more streamlined, more efficient and freer from the hassle of time-sapping paperwork. We have seen the huge success of banking apps such as Monzo, Starling and Atom, in transforming a previously traditional, heavily paper-based sector into something that can happen purely online.

There are certainly the digital tools to make this the case in the lettings sector, too. If we compare how digital, paperless and contactless life is now even compared to a decade ago, when Uber, Deliveroo and Tinder didn’t yet exist, and Airbnb was still only in its infancy, you can see how much has changed already. 

And it seems highly likely that the Covid crisis will speed up the next phase of the tech revolution, which means it’s not unrealistic to expect the rental sector will be paperless and contactless by the end of this decade – or at the very least much less paper-based and contact-based than before.

While contact will still likely be required for viewings, queries, complaints, inspections and check-ins/check-outs, there should be fewer barriers to a rental sector that is truly paperless – which would have benefits from an environmental, practical and time-saving perspective.

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