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 has 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.

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.

Health Protection Scotland has published guidance to support those working in non-healthcare settings give advice to their staff and users of their services about COVID-19. In particular section 1.2 has information on how to prevent spread of infection in the workplace.

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.

Announcements:

UK finance has published information for businesses in recognition that the cashflow of small and medium sized businesses may be disrupted by the impact of the coronavirus (Covid-19) to help you prepare and understand the options available.

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. 

 

Advice for businesses

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. 

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. Should my office be closed?

A. All letting agents and landlords should close their offices if they can work remotely. If this is impossible then you may open your office only for the purpose of providing an emergency contact and response, however, you must not provide routine services, except remotely, as they are not considered essential during the current restrictions announced by the Scottish and UK governments.

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.

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, 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. 

Our Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill will  further protect renters in Scotland during the Covid-19 outbreak, in recognition of the severity of the situation we now find the country in.  We are changing legislation to protect tenants 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.

Further detail and advice will accompany the legislation.

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.

 

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 and should 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.

 

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 gas, electrical and fire safety inspections? Will I be prosecuted if I can’t get access because myself or my tenants are self-isolating?

A. Landlords and letting agents should postpone routine certification requirements 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. Read the latest guidance for landlords and Gas Safe engineers and inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive here

 

 

Electrical and gas safety in privately rented properties

The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 require landlords to have annual gas safety check on each appliance and flue carried out by engineer registered with the Gas Safe Register and to keep a record of each safety check. Further advice can be found on the Gas Safe Register’s website.

The Housing Scotland Act 2006 requires landlords to ensure that an electrical safety inspection by a competent person is carried out before a tenancy commences or at intervals of no more than five years.

 

A landlord could show reasonable steps by keeping copies of all communications they have had with their tenants and with electricians as they tried to arrange the work, including any replies they have had. Landlords may also want to provide other evidence they have that the installation, appliance or flue is in a good condition while they attempt to arrange works.

If you are not able to gain access to the property due to restrictions in place to tackle COVID-19, or are not able to engage a contractor to carry out the necessary work, we recommend you document your attempts to do so and all correspondence with your tenants.
 

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 focussing 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 about the risk of catching the virus?

A. You can follow sensible precautions to keep yourself safe when you or contractors or others are visiting the property, as outlined in public health guidance on social distancing measures.

  • You can take additional measures such as ensuring contractors and tenants remain in separate rooms during any visits and following Scottish Government advice on hygiene and cleanliness before, during and after visits.
  • Wherever possible avoid all direct contact between residents and visitors to the property.

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.