Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for private landlords and letting agents

Published: 20 Mar 2020

Guidance for those in the private rented sector.

Published:
20 Mar 2020
Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for private landlords and letting agents

These FAQs have been compiled by Scottish Government in partnership with Scottish Association of Landlords, Council of Letting Agents and Propertymark. In what are exceptional circumstances, the aim is to provide reassurance and specific guidance on the main questions from and concerns of the private rented sector. Given the fast changing and unpredictable nature of the situation, it is anticipated that further information and guidance will be issued in due course.

The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 is now in force and gives additional protection to protect  tenants from eviction during the outbreak by increasing the notice period a landlord must give a tenant.

Q: Where can we get advice on responding to the Coronavirus Covid-19 outbreak?

A: You should keep up to date with and have regard to the latest advice from Government, the NHS and the Chief Medical Officer. The position is changing on a daily basis and therefore it is important to check that advice regularly.

Q: What advice should we give to our tenants on the outbreak?

A: You should refer tenants to the advice as above.

Q: How can I support my tenants if they are in financial difficulty or are worried about being able to pay their rent over the coming months?

A: It is important you encourage your tenants to contact you as soon as possible if they are in, or think they will be, in financial difficulty and unable to pay their rent.

Tenants affected by coronavirus who are concerned about paying their rent can claim Universal Credit from the Department for Work and Pensions which includes support for housing costs, if eligible. The UK Government has introduced some temporary changes to make this easier. 

If a tenant is getting Housing Benefit or Universal Credit, but still can't afford their housing costs, they may be eligible for a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP). Further information on DHPs and how to apply.

Further support is available for people on low incomes from the Scottish Welfare Fund if facing an emergency situation. 

The Scottish Government has put together information and sources of support for tenants in the private rented sector during coronavirus.

The Chartered Institute for Housing Scotland, Homes for Good and the Scottish Association of Landlords have produced guidance on maintaining tenancies and other Covid-19 related advice.

Q: Can private landlords receive direct payments for rents from Department for Work and Pensions benefits?

A: The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have launched a new online service for landlords to request direct payments of rent or rent arrears

The new Apply for a Direct Rent Payment service replaces the existing managed payment to landlord (MPTL) request process, that relied on requests to be made by completing a UC47 form which landlords could request online but then had to email or post to the DWP.

In addition, the DWP confirms in updated guidance to landlords that both private sector and social landlords can use the new service.

For more information see Universal Credit: Landlord request for a managed payment or rent arrears deduction from gov.uk

Housing Benefit remains reserved to the UK Government.

Q: I understand that the Scottish Government is developing a short-term emergency loan – when will this be available?

A:  The loan scheme opened for applications on 5 May.  The interest-free loan will be available to landlords who have five or fewer rental properties and will fund lost rental income from a single property.  It is designed to take the pressure off landlords, in the short-term, if their tenants are having difficulty making rent payments. Landlords should still engage with their tenants as detailed above.

Enquiries can be sent to the Scottish Government at PRSLandlordCovid-19Loan@gov.scot.

Q: Should I be visiting tenants and properties?

A: Unnecessary visits to tenants' homes must be avoided. Unless work is essential for the safety and security of occupiers, or for homes to be fit for human habitation, it should be postponed. 

Current advice clearly advises against any non-essential travel and direct contact. All businesses and individuals should follow the attached advice and take every effort to stay at home where possible. If visiting the property is unavoidable, tenants must still be given the required notice before any essential visits, in line with the type of tenancy they have. 

Read the most recent advice from the Scottish Government.

Q: Can I still allow tenants to move into properties?

A: The Scottish Government recognises that it is particularly important to avoid people becoming homeless at this time. Tenants should be allowed to move into properties where a tenancy has already been agreed or where absolutely necessary (for example, where a prospective tenant may be at risk of becoming homeless or placed at risk by not being able to access alternative accommodation or to accommodate key workers).

Face-to-face contact should be limited where possible. In cases where face-to-face contact is necessary, distancing measures should be carried out by all parties – ensuring a distance of two meters is kept between anybody who is not from the same household, and limit the number of people present in line with public gathering rules. You should also follow Scottish Government advice on hygiene and cleanliness before, during and after visits.

On 21 May, the Scottish Government published Scotland’s route map through and out of the crisis setting out how and when we might ease our lockdown restrictions.  This note outlines how phases 1 and 2 in the route map apply to the housing market and home moves.

Q. Can I still carry out normal landlord or letting agent business if I follow the health guidelines including social distancing?

A. We are discouraging any unnecessary or avoidable movement of people be they landlords, letting agents or tenants. There may be occasions where you have to visit a property or meet tenants, such as when carrying out urgent maintenance. In these circumstances social distancing measures should take place.  Landlords and letting agents should postpone routine certification requirements during the crisis and carry them out  as soon as possible after it is over.

Please remember to protect yourself and others by:

  • staying at home where possible
  • only going outside for essential food, health and work reasons
  • staying 2 metres (6 feet) away from other people
  • washing your hands regularly                                                             
  • washing your hands as soon as you get home

Q. Can I evict a tenant and if so under what circumstances?

A. We have been clear that no landlord should evict a tenant because they have suffered financial hardship due to Covid-19 and we expect landlords to be flexible with tenants facing financial hardship and signpost them to the sources of financial support available. 

In recognition of the severity of the situation we now find the country in, the Scottish Government has passed emergency legislation to protect renters in Scotland during the Covid-19 outbreak. The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 protects tenants in Scotland from any eviction action for up to 6 months. This will apply to both the private and social rented housing sectors and will ensure the position is absolutely clear for all landlords and tenants in Scotland.

This new legislation temporarily extends the amount of notice landlords must give when ending a tenancy. In most cases landlords will now need to give tenants 6 months' notice, unless they are ending the tenancy for particular reasons, including antisocial and criminal behaviour by the tenant, or where the landlord or their family need to move into the property where the notice period is 3 months.

The legislation also temporarily makes all grounds for eviction in the private rented sector discretionary, ensuring that the Tribunal will be able to use discretion and take all factors relating to the impact of Covid-19 has had on both the landlord and tenant into account before deciding whether to issue an eviction order or not.

The new law applies in cases where a landlord serves notice on their tenant on or after 07 April 2020. Where a landlord has served notice on their tenant before 07 April 2020, the changes in the new law do not apply.

More information on changes to notice periods for private residential tenancies can be found here. Information on notice periods for short assured and assured tenancies can be found here.

Q: Do I have to issue a notice if I want the property back?

A:  Yes, there is a formal process that you must follow if you want to end a tenancy agreement with a tenant. The exact process you must follow depends on the type of tenancy in place. Due to the Covid-19 crisis the Scottish Government has brought in new rules to extend the notice periods given to tenants before legal action to obtain an order for eviction can be started. Information on ending a tenancy and the amount of notice a landlord must give a tenant during the Covid-19 crisis can be found here for a private residential tenancy and here for a short assured tenancy.

If a landlord, or their agent, tries to physically or forcefully remove a tenant from the property it will be considered to be an illegal eviction which is a serious criminal offence.  Illegal eviction attempts are not allowed and could impact on a landlord’s registration or a letting agent’s registration.

Q: What happens if the tenant doesn’t leave at the end of the notice period?

A:  If a tenant does not move out on or before the date in the ‘Notice to Leave’/AT6/section 33 notice the landlord must apply to the First-tier Tribunal (Housing and Property Chamber) for an eviction order and the tenant does not have to move out until they are served with an eviction order granted by the Tribunal.

If a landlord, or their agent, tries to physically or forcefully remove a tenant from the property it will be considered to be an illegal eviction which is a serious criminal offence.

Q: What is an illegal eviction?

A:  An illegal eviction is when a landlord, or their agent, fails to follow the proper process for ending a tenancy. The following actions may be illegal and can result in a landlord committing a criminal offence:

  • Changing the locks to keep the tenant out of the property
  • Making life so uncomfortable for a tenant that they are forced to leave their home by for example cutting off water, gas or electricity supplies
  • Physically removing a tenant from the property, only a sheriff officer may do this.

Illegal eviction attempts are not allowed and could result in the landlord being convicted of an offence. On indictment, the court can impose an unlimited fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to both. An illegal eviction conviction will also impact on a landlord’s registration. Involvement by an agent in an illegal eviction will also impact on a letting agent’s registration.

Q. What about access to a property to conduct viewings or where a move is scheduled?

A. We recommend that landlords and tenants engage constructively about access to a property, and that it is only proposed for serious and urgent issues. Follow the Scottish Government’s latest guidance on distancing measures necessary to help stop the spread of the virus.

This means that no one should visit the property to conduct viewings, or anything else which is not urgent and health and safety-related.

We also advise that, where possible, moves should be delayed. All parties involved in the move should seek to agree to delay a move.  

Where moves cannot be delayed or are unavoidable, for example, if they are needed to prevent overcrowding or because of contractual commitments, then these may need to go ahead. Where moves do need to go ahead, all those involved should take care to follow  guidance on social distancing and hygiene.

Where an individual/family is self-isolating or where a vulnerable person is shielding, moves should not take place unless required for urgent health and safety reasons. 

Regardless of the circumstances your legal rights and obligations about access to the property contained in the tenancy agreement still apply. Your tenants are only under legal obligation to grant access to the property in order to:

    • carry out essential repairs to the property
    • do an annual gas safety check
    • inspect a tenant’s home for any repairs that need to be done

You need to give tenants appropriate notice and should not enter the property without their consent except in an emergency. If the tenants refuses access you must not enter the property.

Q. Someone in my HMO has the virus, am I obliged to remove them or find my tenants another place to stay?

A. The UK Government has issued specific guidance on what to do if someone in your household has contracted the virus, including self-isolating the whole household for 14 days. 

Nobody can be removed from their home because of the virus.

Landlords are not obliged to provide alternative accommodation for tenants if others in the property contract the virus.

You may wish to direct your tenants to Scottish Government guidance on cleanliness and hygiene for non-medical location.

Q. As a landlord, should I stop charging rent during the outbreak?

A. Rent will still be due under the terms of the tenancy agreement and tenants who are able to pay rent as normal must continue to do so.  

There is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach, as each tenant’s circumstance is different and some will be worse affected in terms of their ability to pay than others. It is important for landlords to be flexible, and have a frank and open conversation with their tenants at the earliest opportunity, to allow both parties to agree a sensible way forward.

You should signpost tenants who are concerned about paying their rent to the financial assistance available. The Scottish Government has put together information and sources of support for tenants in the private rented sector during coronavirus.

Q. What does the current situation mean for urgent repairs, or health and safety inspections to my property?

A. Good management requires regular review and maintenance of a property, but we understand that planned inspections will be not be able to go ahead at this time. However, that is no reason to allow dangerous or urgent health and safety conditions to persist.

Where reasonable, safe for you and in line with other Scottish and UK Government guidance you should make every effort to review and address issues brought to your attention by your tenants, and keep records of your efforts. However to be clear - entry should only take place to carry out urgent health and safety and maintenance works. Social distancing should always take place in line with Scottish Government guidance. We expect landlords and letting agents to meet all of their certification requirements that they cannot comply with during the crisis as soon as possible after it is over.

Urgent health and safety issues are those which will affect your tenant’s ability to live safely and maintain their mental and physical health in the property. This could include (but is not limited to):

    • If there is a problem with the fabric of the building, for example the roof is leaking
    • If your boiler is broken, leaving your tenant without heating or hot water
    • If there is a plumbing issue, meaning your tenant does not have washing or toilet facilities
    • If the white goods such as fridge or washing machine have broken, meaning the tenant is unable to wash clothes or store food safely (where contractors are willing and available to carry out the work)
    • If there is a security-critical problem, such as a broken window or external door
    • If there is a problem that makes the house in any way unfit for human habitation

Q. What about my legal obligations to provide regular electrical and fire safety inspections?

A. Landlords and letting agents should postpone routine certification requirements (other than gas safety checks) during the crisis and carry them out  as soon as possible after it is over.

Where inspections have already been carried out, documents can be provided by post or in some circumstances it may be possible to provide digital copies.

We are encouraging local authorities and other enforcement agencies to take a pragmatic, common-sense approach to enforcement in these unprecedented times.

Q. What about my legal obligations to provide regular gas safety inspections?

Due to the current health emergency, the Scottish Government would like to see the postponement of the annual gas safety check to ensure the spread of the Covid-19 virus is reduced.  However, the Scottish Government recognises that the annual gas safety regulations are reserved to the UK Government and we cannot change them.  The Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning has written to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) urging them to take a pragmatic and proportionate approach by providing a temporary extension of the statutory obligations for gas safety in light of the public health emergency. In the meantime, HSE advice setting out what it considers best endeavours should be followed.

Read the latest guidance for landlords and Gas Safe engineers and inspectors from the HSE. 

Q. What about the new energy efficiency regulations which mean that, from 1 Oct, my property must be at least EPC Band E when a tenancy changes?

A. The Energy Efficiency (Domestic Private Rented Property (Scotland) Regulations 2020 were due to come into force on 1 April 2020.  However, because of the COVID-19 crisis, the decision has been made not to launch these regulations at this time.  This is to reduce the burden on local authorities, who are focusing on frontline emergency responses, and to put the safety of tenants and workers at the forefront.  We do not want to put pressure on landlords to try to undertake works in their properties at this time, when medical and government advice continues to mandate social distancing measures.  The work on improving energy efficiency in private rented housing will resume once the current COVID-19 crisis comes to an end.

Q. What can we do about mortgage repayments?

A. Mortgage lenders have agreed to offer payment holidays of up to three months where this is needed due to Coronavirus-related hardship. 

Where a tenant is unable to pay their rent in full the landlord – if a mortgagee – should discuss this with their lender, who can arrange a mortgage holiday where appropriate.

Advice for businesses

Q. How will our businesses get help financially?

A. The Scottish Government recognises that many businesses, including private landlords and registered Letting Agents, will have very serious concerns over how they will continue to operate during this period of great uncertainty. You will be aware that both the UK and Scottish Governments have outlined plans for to provide businesses with support and we attach links to more detailed explanations of this help below:

A helpline providing businesses across Scotland with advice and guidance on COVID-19 was launched by the Scottish Government on 13 March. The helpline is open Monday to Friday between 8.30am and 5.30pm and can be contacted on 0300 303 0660.

Support for business - announcements:

Q: What advice should we give to our staff?

A: Immediate action should include circulating Government Guidance to staff. NHS Scotland have developed a communication toolkit containing a poster, video and social media posts for organisations to print and share. Download the coronavirus (COVID-19) communication toolkit.

Consider how you might be able to support staff with their health and well-being, particularly in a period where a prolonged shutdown of the office may be necessary.

Q: What should we do to make sure that the public areas of our offices and other premises are as safe as they can be?

A: Health Protection Scotland provides general advice on protecting people from the virus.

Q: What practical steps can I take now to support our business continuity efforts?

A: First, make sure that you keep up to date with the advice from government and health authorities. It is important that you ensure your business continuity/resilience plan is up to date and accessible to all who may need it. You will want to ensure that all staff fully understand what is required of them. You may want to test your plans, simulating your continuity plan in advance of having to action it to ensure all staff fully understand what is required of them. You will want to engage with your contractors and suppliers to establish contingency arrangements with them. You may want to audit the ability of your staff to be able to adapt to agile or remote working. Establish the contingency arrangements for your contractors and suppliers. Finally, consider how you will communicate any changes to services to your tenants and service users, and how you will respond to any enquiries they may make.