Covid-19 current 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 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) COVID-19 Loan Support
- Council tax: new student exemption
- Financial help for businesses
- Covid-19 changes to eviction procedures
- Lifting of restrictions on most work activities
- 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 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 has been 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) Covid-19 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: new student exemption
Many members have student properties unexpectedly empty as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and could have faced unforeseen Council Tax costs. This link is to the details of the student let council tax exemption which SAL successfully lobbied politicians to deliver to assist this situation.
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.
As part of the government’s support for businesses in the coronavirus crisis, those in the retail sector operating from premises where the rateable value is between £18,001 and £51,000 are eligible to apply to the “Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund” for a business support grant of £25,000, from their local authority. Some agents had been refused however thanks to SAL lobbying the government has changed its guidance. See details.
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.
Resumption of FTT cases
Due to coronavirus, the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland (Housing & Property Chamber) has not been conducting any hearings or case management discussions (CMDs) since 19 March. As lockdown arrangements are now beginning to ease, work has started in re-scheduling postponed CMDs. These will commence from 9th July onwards by teleconference.
Consideration has been given as to whether hearings may be conducted using video conference facilities. However, it is not possible for the Scottish Courts & Tribunals Service to support this at present for cases within the Housing and Property Chamber. Therefore it has been decided that teleconference hearings should be arranged for all cases which are able to be taken forward.
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. Property inspections (e.g. for repairing standard cases) are not currently being undertaken due to safety concerns.
Lifting of restrictions on most work activities
Now that Scotland has moved to Phase 3 of the lifting of lockdown restrictions, the government has updated its guidance to landlords and letting agents.
The main changes are that property inspections and electrical safety checks are now permitted, provided that the tradesperson and occupants of the house are well and are not showing coronavirus symptoms and there is no one in the household who is self-isolating. Anyone entering a tenant’s home must observe social distancing, use appropriate and proportionate protective equipment, and follow the guidance on sanitation.
The updated guidance can be read here.
SAL advises that the following activities can all safely go ahead:
- Viewings and move ins, adhering to government guidance on conducting these safely
- All maintenance work whether routine or urgent
- All property checks, adhering to government guidance as above
- Move outs
–we recommend doing these 72 hours after the tenant has moved out to reduce the risk of picking up the virus from contaminated surfaces in the property
- 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.
Template letter for property visits during Covid-19
Now that property visits are permitted for viewings and maintenance work, SAL has prepared a template letter for members to issue to tenants setting out the precautions that both they and the person visiting the property should take to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus. The letter can be found here. Members remember you need to log in to download resources.
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 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.
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