Publication - Advice and guidance

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

Published: 3 Sep 2020

Guidance for those in the private rented sector.

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

Updated 2 September 2020 – please see the guidance on local restrictions. Please continue to follow Phase 3 guidance below and exert extra vigilance.

Where to get advice on responding to the Coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak

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.

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.  

Advice to give tenants on the outbreak

You should refer tenants to the advice as above.

Supporting tenants if they are in financial difficulty or are worried about being able to pay their rent over the coming months

It is important you encourage your tenants to contact you as soon as possible if they are, 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 can be found here..

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 the COVID-19 outbreak.

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.

How private landlords can receive direct payments for rents from Department for Work and Pensions benefits

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.

The Scottish Government short-term emergency loan scheme

The loan scheme opened for applications on 5 May. The interest-free loan is 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.

Further information on the loan, including the application form.

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

Advice about mortgage repayments

Mortgage lenders have agreed to offer payment holidays of up to six months where this is needed due to COVID-19 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.

Charging rent during the outbreak

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 the COVID-19 outbreak.

Evicting a tenant

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 7 April 2020. Where a landlord has served notice on their tenant before 7 April 2020, the changes in the new law do not apply.

Read ore information on changes to notice periods for private residential tenancies. Read more information on notice periods for short assured and assured tenancies.

Issuing a notice to end a tenancy

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. Read more information on ending a tenancy and the amount of notice a landlord must give a tenant during the COVID-19 crisis for a private residential tenancy and  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.

If the tenant doesn’t leave at the end of the notice period

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.

Definition of an illegal eviction

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 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.

Opening a letting agency, or landlords, office to the public

Letting agents can continue to support clients in the marketing of properties and can now open premises for business. They should consider how and when to reopen their premises, though if possible remote working should be considered, and follow the Scottish Government Guidance for businesses and employers. Letting agents should inform customers and their own staff about their safer working procedures, in order to minimise the public health risk as far as possible. If possible use appointment systems for your offices.

Conducting viewings and moves as a letting agent or landlord

You should refer to the Moving Homes guidance.

The following recommendations apply for all home moves in the 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. 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 and follow government guidelines on physical distancing and the use of face coverings.

  • Landlords should ask whether any member of a tenant’s household is showing symptoms, or has been asked to self-isolate, before going ahead with any visits to properties. This applies as well to households of multiple occupation (HMOs) with common areas.

  • Where an unaccompanied viewing is being carried out, agents and landlords should make sure that tenants and prospective tenants clearly understand how the viewing should be conducted safely and that they should comply with health guidance including physical distancing.
  • All parties viewing a property should wash their hands with soap and water or use hand sanitiser immediately after entering the properties, with internal doors opened and surfaces having been wiped down before they enter. Separate towels or paper towels should be used. The landlord, should be responsible for providing these, unless the tenant objects, in which case the tenant must take responsibility.
  • Appointment systems should be used for tenants visiting offices and when conducting viewings. Virtual viewings should be carried out where possible, with physical viewings only where there is no other alternative.
  • Any visits to a property must be made in accordance with the Scottish Government guidelines on physical distancing.

Follow the Scottish Government’s latest guidance on distancing measures necessary to help stop the spread of the virus.

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.

Rules for homes of multiple occupancy (HMO)

You should take care to ensure that where the property is an HMO that the rules on isolation and hygiene apply to all the tenants and the common areas of a property.

You should ensure that any visits to an HMO is arranged to ensure that tenants are informed and able to avoid any unnecessary contact. For example you should ensure that any property viewing is restricted to common areas and the vacant room or rooms.

What to do if someone in an HMO has the virus

The UK Government has issued specific guidance on what to do if someone in a 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.

Repairs, or health and safety inspections to a property

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.

Where possible, repairs, gas and electrical safety checks and energy performance assessments should be conducted in the period between a property being vacated and a new tenant moving in. See guidance on cleaning empty properties. However, if visits are needed to an occupied property, this should be done by appointment with measures put in place to ensure physical contact is minimised, for example with residents staying in another room during the visit.

Landlords should make every effort to abide by gas safety requirements, which continue to be of great importance for tenants’ safety. This may be more difficult due to restrictions associated with the COVID-19 outbreak, for example where a tenant has COVID-19 symptoms, or is self-isolating. Under such circumstances, provided the landlord can demonstrate they have taken reasonable steps to comply, they would not be in breach. Read the latest guidance for landlords and Gas Safe engineers and inspectors from the HSE.

Landlords should also make every effort to abide by electrical and other fuel safety requirements, which continue to be of great importance for tenants’ safety. This may be more difficult due to restrictions associated with the COVID-19 outbreak. 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.

Letting agents may also want to consider obtaining landlord and tenant consent for inventory clerk appointments to also occur before a tenant moves in or after a tenant moves out during vacant periods if possible.

Managing health and safety and maintenance issues

On 9 July 2020 the Scottish Government announced the move to Stage 3 of the release from Lockdown. In line with the Scottish Government guidance on business and physical distancing published on 29 June, non-essential repairs and maintenance to rented homes can go ahead, 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. Good communication between landlords and tenants, planning, and taking a risk-based approach are important. Landlords should be mindful that some tenants may still be vulnerable, and also may be anxious about tradespeople coming into their home. Landlords should take reasonable account of these factors, especially if work requires access to two or more rooms. Any tradespeople entering people’s homes must observe social distancing, use appropriate and proportionate protective equipment, and follow the guidance on sanitation.

Delayed new energy efficiency regulations

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 physical distancing measures. The work on improving energy efficiency in private rented housing will resume once the current COVID-19 crisis comes to an end.

Advice for businesses

How  businesses can get help financially

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:

  • Find business support on gov.scot. 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 8.30 am and 5.30 pm and can be contacted on 0300 303 0660.

Support for business - announcements:

Advice for staff

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.

How to make sure that the public areas of offices and other premises are as safe as they can be

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

Steps to support business continuity efforts

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.