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 frequently asked questions are answered here.
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 changes to model lease
- PRS Landlord (non-business) Covid19 Loan Support
- Council tax: retrospective student exemption
- Financial help for businesses
- COVID-19 changes to eviction procedures
- Which work activities are “absolutely necessary”?
- Energy efficiency
- Lockdown legionnaires’ risk
- Managing rent arrears during COVID-19
- Tenants unable to collect belongings
- Mortgage holidays
- Social distancing/personal hygiene advice for staff/contractors/tenants
- COVID-19 data protection guidance
COVID-19 changes to model lease
The Scottish Government has made changes to the model private residential tenancy (PRT) lease to reflect the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act changes to notice procedures, updated smoke detector requirements (allowing long life battery detectors) and updated deposit legislation (see here).
The changes are highlighted in the lease template below (members remember you need to be logged in to download documents).Word PRT CV highlighted
Anyone with a version of the model PRT saved should ensure that they update their documents to reflect these changes. There is no requirement to issue details of the changes to current tenants or provide updated lease wording to current/future tenants who have already signed a lease.
The new version of the lease will soon be updated on the government’s “create a tenancy” website. Updates have also been made to the guidance notes which accompany the PRT and the latest versions can be accessed via our factsheet on the PRT regime.
PRS Landlord (non-business) Covid19 Loan Support – see information
SAL is pleased that due to our lobbying the Scottish Government is now offering financial assistance to landlords who suffer a loss of income as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
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. See SAL response to the original loan announcement.
Council tax: retrospective student exemption
Many members have student properties unexpectedly empty as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. This link is to the details of the student let council tax exemption which landlords may be able to apply for retrospectively if all the criteria end up being met:
Financial help for businesses
In addition to the well-publicised coronavirus job retention scheme and the 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 including the more recently announced Bounce Back loans.
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 7 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 7 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. Full details of the changes can be found in our Factsheet on the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act.
Extended closure of tribunal
Due to ongoing lockdown restrictions the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Housing & Property Chamber) has announced a further postponement of all case management discussions/hearings to 9 July 2020.
A coordinated approach is being taken by Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service for resumption of work in the courts and tribunals. Significant changes to the way courts and tribunals work are necessary and the changes required are being considered and implemented. The tribunal hopes that rescheduled case management discussions conducted by teleconference will be able to be fixed from a date in July onwards but this is dependent on matters outwith their control. Options for the resumption of oral hearings are under consideration but are likely to take longer because of the safety risks associated with face to face proceedings.
In the meantime, applications can be lodged with the tribunal and it is recommend that, where possible, this is done electronically. Some administrative work is being undertaken remotely to process applications.
Further information can be read here.
Which work activities are “absolutely necessary”?
At present the Scottish 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
- Safety checks to obtain a landlords gas safety certificate
- 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/gas safety checks or you are unable to engage a contractor to carry out the 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 (other than gas safety checks) 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.
Lockdown legionnaires’ risk
With lockdown meaning that many rental properties are sitting unoccupied, there is a risk of legionnaires’ bacteria growing in water systems. This can cause legionnaires’ disease which is a type of pneumonia caused by water droplets containing legionnella bacteria getting into the lungs. See what action to take.
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.
Tenants unable to collect belongings
We’ve had numerous calls from landlords whose tenants have given notice and left the property (typically students who’ve returned to their parents’ address) leaving belongings in the property and claiming they’re not permitted to return to uplift their possessions at the moment during the coronavirus “lockdown”. In this scenario there are a couple of options to consider: See options.
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 1.3, 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.