Revealed – what is the current Covid-19 advice for landlords in Scotland?
Fri 14 Aug 2020
The last few months have seen things move very fast as the UK has eased out of lockdown, with each constituent part of the UK moving at slightly different paces and with slightly different rules.
With so much information being disseminated, and things changing frequently – often on a sixpence – it can be hard to keep up and hard to know what the rules are from one day to another.
The lettings market can be included in this. Here, in an attempt to clear up any confusion, we analyse the current Covid-19 guidance for landlords and letting agents in Scotland.
The guidance was published on July 10 2020, and hasn’t changed since – other than to reflect the current situation in Aberdeen.
What is the current advice?
On May 21, the Scottish Government published the country’s route map through and out of the crisis, setting out how and when lockdown restrictions might be eased.
In late June, the property market was allowed to reopen again after more than three months in freeze mode, albeit with strong emphasis on the importance of physical distancing and hygiene protocols, while people were encouraged to carry out as much of the process online, including virtual viewings as a first port of call.
For those tenants who are in financial difficulty or worried about being able to pay their rent over the coming months – likely because of the economic impact of coronavirus – the government urges landlords and letting agents to point to the schemes on offer to help them. Tenants affected by coronavirus who are concerned about paying their rent can claim Universal Credit, which includes support for housing costs (if eligible). The UK government has introduced some temporary changes to Universal Credit to make this easier.
Meanwhile, if a tenant is in receipt of Housing Benefit or Universal Credit, but still can't afford their rent, they may be eligible for a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP).
Similarly, further support is available for people on low incomes from the Scottish Welfare Fund for those facing an emergency situation, while the Scottish Government has compiled information and sources of support for tenants in the private rented sector during the Covid outbreak.
Receiving direct payments for rents
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have set up a new online service for landlords to request direct payments of rent or rent arrears.
The new service - Apply for a Direct Rent Payment - supersedes the existing managed payment to landlord (MPTL) request process. The DWP also confirmed in updated guidance to landlords that both private sector and social landlords can use the new service.
Short-term emergency loans
The Scottish Government’s short-term emergency loan scheme opened for applications on May 5, with the interest-free loan available to landlords who have five or fewer rental properties and ‘will fund lost rental income from a single property’.
It’s designed to take the pressure off landlords, in the short-term, if their tenants are having difficulty making rent payments on time. You can find out more information about the loan, and source an application form, by clicking here.
Most mortgage lenders have agreed to offer payment holidays of up to six months where this is needed due to Covid-19-related financial difficulties.
If your tenant is unable to pay their rent in full, and if you are a landlord with a mortgage, you could discuss the possibility of a mortgage holiday with your lender where suitable.
It’s important to remember, though, that there are pros and cons when it comes to mortgage holidays, and it could affect your ability to borrow at a later date. Discuss with your agent and a financial adviser to ensure this is the right route for you to go down before committing to it.
You will have to pay the money back at some point, too – the holiday is merely a deferral to a later date when you are better able to pay.
Charging rent during Covid-19
During the crisis, rent is still due as normal under the terms of the tenancy agreement and tenants who are able to pay rent as normal should continue to do so. Research by the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) found that, despite the challenges posed by Covid, more than 95% of private tenants are paying rent in full or have an arrangement with their landlord to pay a lower rent or defer payment.
The survey also revealed that 87% of private tenants have paid rent as normal throughout the pandemic.
However, there is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach, as the Scottish Government points out. Each tenant’s circumstances will be different. Some will have been worse affected in terms of their ability to pay than others, depending on what job they have and what industry they work in.
Landlords should be flexible and adaptable, ‘and have a frank and open conversation with their tenants at the earliest opportunity’. This will enable both parties to agree a sensible way forward. You can ask your agent to do this for you if you’re not comfortable having such discussions.
Again, it’s important that you make tenants aware of the financial support available to them at this time to help them pay their rent.
Conducting viewings and moves
Landlords and letting agents should refer to the Moving Homes guidance for a detailed outline of the rules and regulations concerning house moves and viewings during the pandemic.
The following recommendations apply for all moves in the private rented sector. Viewings should not be conducted in properties where tenants are showing symptoms or self-isolating, or in quarantine following arrival into the country, or where it has been determined that they are shielding.
Where there is no alternative, landlord staff and agents can accompany landlords and prospective tenants on physical viewings but should seek to minimise contact with prospective tenants and home occupiers at all times. Government guidelines on physical distancing and the use of face coverings should be followed.
Landlords should ask whether any member of a tenant’s household is showing symptoms, has been asked to self-isolate, or is shielding before viewings. This applies to households of multiple occupation (HMOs) with common areas as well.
Where an unaccompanied viewing takes place, agents and landlords should ensure that tenants and prospective tenants clearly understand how the viewing should be conducted safely.
All parties viewing a property should wash their hands with soap and water or use hand sanitiser immediately after entering the properties. Internal doors should be opened and surfaces wiped down before they enter. Separate towels or paper towels should be used, with the landlord responsible for providing these unless the tenant objects. In which case the tenant must take responsibility.
Viewings should be appointment-only, virtual viewings should be carried out where possible, and in-person viewings should only occur when there is no other alternative. Any viewings must be in accordance with the Scottish Government guidelines on physical distancing.
The above factors are just some of the many things landlords and agents must consider in the new normal. You can download the full 16-page PDF guidance document here, which provides info on evictions, the rules for HMOs, what to do if someone has the virus, repairs and maintenance, and health and safety.
Remember, in spite of the circumstances, legal rights and obligations when it comes to accessing the property still apply. Your tenants are only legally obliged to grant access to the property in order for you or your agent to: carry out essential repairs to the property, do an annual gas safety check, or inspect a tenant’s home for any repairs that need to be done.
You must still give tenants appropriate notice and should not enter the property without their consent – except for emergency situations. If your tenant refuses access, you must not enter the property.
Lastly, the planned upgrading of Scotland’s energy efficiency regulations were set to come in from April 1 2020, but have been delayed because of the Covid-19 crisis.
Here at Letting Solutions, West Lothian’s first dedicated lettings agency, we are open for business, albeit strictly in line with all the required rules around the Coronavirus epidemic. Members of the Team are working remotely covering all aspects of the business. Our hours of business are unchanged, namely: Monday to Friday from 9.15am to 5pm (except on Wednesdays, when we do training and open from 11am to 5pm).
For more information, please see our full page details here.