The following update has been sent through to us by the Scottish Association of Landlords. It is times like this when good trade bodies are invaluable with their updates and we would urge all landlords to join and sign up for this type of information;
The SAL team is working to represent our members’ views on the many devastating health, social, personal and economic effects of the current COVID-19 crisis. Our aim is to be here to provide the most up to date information and guidance as long as our staff team remains healthy. Thank you for all the positive comments about our assistance and for your good wishes to us all.
Our advice team is returning advice calls as quickly as possible, however understandably we are inundated at present. To help us help you quickly, please can we ask you to read this page update before you phone as many frequetly asked questions are answered there.
We closed our main office in mid March and moved to full remote working. Our first priority is, and will remain, the health of our staff team, that of all our members and their landlord and tenant clients.
Below is our latest guidance. The Scottish Government have also published guidance for landlords and letting agents which can be found here.
The situation continues to change rapidly and we will update members as quickly as we can with news.
COVID-19 financial assistance for landlords
SAL is pleased that due to our lobbying the Scottish Government has today announced that they will be offering financial assistance to landlords who suffer a loss of income as a result of the coronavirus crisis. The interest free loans should be available by the end of April. SAL will provide more details to members, including how to apply, as soon as we get this information.
Our policy team is aware that a loan is not as good as a grant. This is obviously not as beneficial a support as members would choose, however it is a significant and hard won concession which we must welcome, particularly with it being interest free while bank finance remains relatively high cost for those who need it. It is worth noting this is available for landlords letting in Scotland only. So far there has been no such support for landlords made available in England and Wales.
We will continue to press for further financial assistance.
Commenting on the announcement regarding support for landlords via a new interest free loan fund, John Blackwood, SAL chief executive, said: “We are pleased the Scottish Government and other parties have listened to our concerns and welcome this first step in providing support for a sector which has fallen between the cracks of previous announcements.”
“This announcement will provide some reassurance for our members, who are providers of essential housing and many of whom rely on income from rented properties and operate the same way as other small businesses, but this needs to go a lot further. For example, a lot of our members are retired and reliant on rental income so unless that income is guaranteed, these older people will suffer real hardship.”
“It is also important that landlords and tenants work together throughout this crisis to prevent the threat of later eviction and rent arrears. We do, however, remain convinced that in cases where anti-social behaviour can be conclusively demonstrated, action must be possible so landlords can fulfil our responsibilities to the wider community. We would welcome further clarification on this point in the future.”
The minister’s words were:
“The Scottish Government will establish a fund that eligible private landlords will be able to apply to if they experience difficulty securing rent as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. They will be offered an interest-free loan with deferred payments. The intention is to take the pressure off landlords, in the short-term, if their tenants are having difficulty making rent payments. We expect to have that fund in place by the end of April, at the latest.”
Later he said: “As I said earlier, we are looking at a landlord loan fund, which we will make available as soon as possible and for as long as it is needed. We hope that we can have all that in place by the end of April at the latest, as I said in my opening remarks. We are developing the detailed criteria around that. We will make such a loan available for as long as possible, for as long as it is needed. We envisage that that would be up to a year, and we will backdate it to 1 March.”
Financial help for businesses
In addition to the well-publicised coronavirus job retention scheme and the newly announced self-employed income support scheme, various support packages have been put in place for businesses to assist them financially during the COVID-19 period. Details of these can be read here.
Businesses which have non-domestic business premises that qualify for the small business bonus scheme can apply for a £10,000 grant from their local authority. This is not means tested. Application forms can be accessed via the link here. On the application form you will need to quote your rates reference number which can be found using the postcode search at www.saa.gov.uk
Those with larger non-domestic business premises which have had to close due to the outbreak will be exempt from business rates. Further details can be read here.
COVID-19 changes to eviction procedures
In response to the coronavirus crisis, Scottish Ministers have introduced legislation which makes changes to the eviction procedure for tenancies in the private and social rented sector. Initially these changes will apply from 6 April 2020 until 30 September 2020 but there is provision in the legislation for the end date to be changed.
Please note that the changes detailed below do not apply to any evictions where the landlord served notice on the tenant before 6 April 2020.
During the period detailed above all evictions will be discretionary, which means that if the tenant doesn’t voluntarily vacate and the landlord has to apply for an eviction order at the tribunal, the tribunal may decide to exercise a reasonableness test in deciding whether to evict the tenant or not. In simple terms, this means that the tribunal will decide based on the circumstances of the case whether the tenant’s need/right to occupy the property is outweighed by the landlord’s need/right to repossess the property .
The legislation also makes changes to the notice period that the landlord is required to give the tenant. The notice period depends on the type of tenancy and the eviction ground being used.
Members should also be aware that the Housing and Property Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal that deals with eviction cases, will not be hearing cases until at least 28 May but this could be much longer.
A: Private Residential Tenancies
The notice period depends on the ground being used, as detailed below.
Ground 1 – landlord selling – 6 months
Ground 4 – landlord moving in – 3 months
Ground 5 – landlord’s family member moving in – 3 months
Ground 10 – tenant not occupying property – 28 days
Ground 11 – breach of tenancy terms – 6 months
Ground 12 – tenant has owed some rent for 3 months – 6 months
Ground 13 – criminal behaviour – 3 months
Ground 14 – anti-social behaviour – 3 months
Ground 15 – association with person with criminal conviction/engaged in anti-social behaviour – 3 months
Ground 16 – landlord has been refused registration or had registration revoked – 3 months
Ground 17 – landlord’s HMO licence has been revoked – 3 months
All other grounds – 6 months
An amended version of the Notice to Leave should be issued for the time the Act is in force. A template for this can be found here.
B: Assured/Short Assured Tenancies
Ending a short assured tenancy using a notice to quit and section 33 notice – 6 months’ notice ending on an ish date of the tenancy.
Ending an assured/short assured tenancy using an AT6 notice – the notice period depends on the ground being used, as detailed below.
Ground 1 – required as or previously used as landlord’s principal home – 3 months
Ground 8 – 3 months’ rent arrears – 6 months
Ground 9 – suitable alternative accommodation available – 2 months
Ground 11 – persistent delay in paying rent – 6 months
Ground 12 – some rent unpaid – 6 months
Ground 13 – breach of tenancy terms – 6 months
Ground 15 – anti-social behaviour – 3 months
All other grounds – 6 months
An amended version of the AT6 should be issued for the time the Act is in force. A template for this can be found here.
Full details of the changes can be found in our Factsheet on the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act.
Which work activities are “absolutely necessary”?
At present the UK government advice is that we should all stay at home and only leave home for work if it is absolutely necessary. Below is SAL’s guidance on what activities we consider to be necessary and not necessary. This is guidance only; it is up to individual landlords and letting agents to decide how to manage their businesses.
SAL advises that the following activities should still go ahead where possible:
- Move ins where the incoming tenant is not able to postpone the move in date, for example because otherwise they would have nowhere to live
- Emergency maintenance work e.g. heating/hot water repairs, water leaks
- Move outs to check the property is safe and secure – these should be done without the tenant being present and to reduce the risk of virus spread from surfaces we recommend doing them 72 hours after the tenant has moved out
- Agents should continue to adhere to their in house procedures for rent collection and handling client money
Whilst conducting any of the above activities those involved should follow advice on social distancing and personal hygiene to reduce the chances of spreading the virus. Wherever possible they should be carried out without the tenant being present.
If tenants are not willing to allow access for emergency maintenance work then you should:
- keep records of all attempts you have made to arrange access
- ensure you continue to make repeated attempts to arrange access
In most cases other activities are unlikely to be considered to be absolutely necessary. Property inspections shouldn’t be carried out at present. It is up to you to decide whether to advertise the property or not but viewings should only take place in exceptional circumstances e.g. if a tenant needs to be rehoused because their current property is uninhabitable.
The Scottish Government advises in its guidance that landlords and letting agents should postpone routine safety certification requirements during the crisis and carry them out as soon as possible after it is over. We will let members know when the Scottish Government consider landlords and agents should resume these activities.
The government has delayed the launch of the Energy Efficiency (Domestic Private Rented Property) (Scotland) Regulations 2020, which were due to come into force on 1 April 2020. The work on improving energy efficiency in private rented housing will resume once the current COVID-19 crisis comes to an end and the regulations may still come into force before the first trigger point of 1 October 2020. For further details on what is proposed, see our news article here.
Managing rent arrears during COVID-19
Under the terms of the tenancy agreement the rent is still due as normal unless the landlord agrees to a rent reduction or for tenants to pay what is due over a longer period. For guidance on how to deal with rent arrears that arise due to COVID-19 including sources of financial help for tenants please click here.
For guidance on mortgage holidays click here.
Social distancing/personal hygiene advice for staff/contractors/tenants
Guidance on the precautions we must all take to reduce the spread of the virus can be found on the NHS website here.
This guidance from Health Protection Scotland has, in section 1.2, a number of suggestions relevant to preventing the spread of the virus in a workplace environment.
Agents should consider whether or not there is a requirement for their offices to be open and staff to attend. In light of government advice, employees should be working from home where this is possible. Agencies should determine whether there is a need for their offices to remain open, in light of the advice to stay at home, to protect the health and wellbeing of your employees, and the public. Please take specific legal advice from an employment solicitor with regards your staff and how to manage this situation.
COVID-19 data protection guidance
The ICO has issued guidance covering questions they’re being asked about data protection issues arising from the coronavirus outbreak. It covers matters including homeworking and collecting health data from those you interact with in the course of your business. The guidance can be read here.
Do you need individual help and advice? Please join SAL to access documents and advice and ensure you are sent all the new and updated information directly to your inbox. Please show your support by adding your voice to our campaigns as a member. We now, more than ever, all need to work together as an industry.