- 25 Jun 2021
In responding to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, there are many examples of private landlords and letting agents who have gone further than ever before to engage with tenants as more people find themselves in difficulty for the first time because of Covid.
As the country comes out of lockdown it is our shared commitment to make sure that tenants in hardship because of Covid continue to get support to pay their rent and living expenses and we will continue to work together collectively to ensure this is done.
The Scottish Government will continue to explore all options for policy and financial support to enable tenants to work with their landlords and letting agents; to be aware of their rights and responsibilities and support them to address financial hardship due to Covid-19. Alongside existing support of extended notice periods, Discretionary Housing Payments and the Tenant Hardship Loan Fund this will include a new £10m Grant Fund package to support tenants in crisis who are struggling to pay their rent because of financial difficulty caused by the pandemic and help landlords to support them.
Where a private tenant has suffered financial hardship because of the Coronavirus pandemic, eviction action should be an absolute last resort, when all other avenues have been exhausted and a tenancy is no longer sustainable.
We advise that private landlords and letting agents continue to work to the following principles – for the remainder of the pandemic and throughout recovery:
- Intervene early to keep people in their homes and give them the support they need to stay there
- Landlords and letting agents should work with tenants who are struggling and support them to make arrangements to pay rent through a plan that is manageable for them in the long term
- All landlords and letting agents should be flexible with their tenants, signposting them to the range of financial support that is available to help prevent rent arrears as part of the pre-action protocols required prior to any eviction application to the Tribunal or Sheriff Court.
- Landlords and letting agents should act compassionately and quickly to support people who are in financial hardship and wish to work with their landlord to reduce arrears.
Paying rent is an important tenant responsibility and, where a tenant is able to do so, they must continue to pay their rent. To help do this, private landlords and letting agents from across the country have worked flexibly with their tenants to help them access the wide range of support on offer, and to sustain tenancies and prevent eviction action – as demonstrated in the annexed case studies.
Purpose of this statement
- To set out the current levels of support available for private rented tenants and to reaffirm the flexible and supportive approach private landlords and letting agents should and in many cases have been taking to help keep people safe in their homes and avoid eviction where tenants are struggling through no fault of their own to manage their rent payments
- To highlight real-life examples of private landlord practice since the start of the pandemic that has helped tenants in financial difficulty access support in order to sustain their tenancies.
- A complimentary statement has been developed with social housing landlords.
The Scottish Association of Landlords
The Scottish Government
Case Study 1: Private Landlord (owns 18 properties – mix of tenants and small commercial):
Assistance to single male in one bed flat in an urban development and employed as a tradesperson’s assistant
Tenant, who had lived in the flat since 2017, contacted the landlord at beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, in March 2020, and explained that he would have problems making rent payments. This was due to employment issues and being placed on furlough at 80% of his normal wage.
The landlord suggested reducing the rent from £350 to £200/month, recognising the tenant could have other financial pressures resulting from the reduction in wages. The new arrangement was to be in place until the tenant returned to his normal wage. On top of this, the landlord agreed also to forego the rent for the first month of the tenant living on a reduced wage. The landlord recognised he was a good tenant and that pushing him into debt would not be a good option for either party.
After 9 months operating under this arrangement the landlord heard that the tenant was in hospital so made contact. This had been a surprise to the landlord as the tenant’s full rent had been paid while he was in hospital. It had been paid by a friend while the landlord had assumed the tenant must have returned to fully paid employment terms. When the landlord became aware of the tenant’s circumstances he reinstated the previous arrangement of £200/month and also waived the rent for the first month after leaving hospital. The tenant has recently returned to normal employment terms and is now able to return to paying the full rent.
Conclusion: This case demonstrates how flexible and understanding steps taken by a private landlord protected a tenant from the threat of debt and being unable to meet the cost of his rent. In turn, it prevented the tenant getting into a position of building up rental arrears which could have, at some point, placed him in fear of, or indeed facing eviction.
The landlord’s actions provided space and a level of security for the tenant, enabling them to eventually return to the position of being back in fully paid employment and able to meet the full cost of their rent.
Case Study 2: Private Landlord (owns 6-7 properties rented to private tenants):
Assistance to young couple renting two bed flat in an urban area and employed in hospitality sector
At the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, in March 2020, the landlord was considering the likely impact on all tenants against the affordability checks undertaken when the individual tenancies were set up. The landlord issued advice to all their tenants about accessing government support and other sources of information, and to offer the option to get in touch if there were any issues at all so that support can be offered.
The assessment was that most of the tenants were in secure situations but that the tenants in one particular property could be financially vulnerable, as a result of the Coronavirus restrictions due to them both working in the hospitality sector.
The property they rented was in a higher rent area and above the levels for support under universal credit. At the same time, the tenants texted the landlord to discuss their position and to explain that they were being placed on furlough. The tenants insisted that they weren’t in need of help at that point but were worried about their ability to pay in the future.
Following this contact, the landlord took the decision to reduce the rent by slightly over 20% to support the tenants through the period that the hospitality sector was impacted by the restrictions. The landlord recognised that this could be a difficult financial situation for the tenants and wanted to support them during the period of significant uncertainty. The landlord recognised it was a benefit to both parties that the tenants were protected from the danger of building up debt and insisted that the reduction, which was set at a level to cover costs, was not to be paid back.
The arrangement was put in place from the beginning of the restrictions in March 2020, until the hospitality industry opened up again and the tenants were able to resume paying full rent from mid-August.
Conclusion: This case demonstrates how the advice, flexibility and support provided by a private landlord helped tenants who were at risk of accumulating rent arrears due to the impact of the pandemic on the hospitality sector.
By engaging with their landlord and making them aware of the financial uncertainties they were facing, both parties were able to work together and agree a reduced rent, helping keep the tenants safe in their home whilst the landlord was able to continue covering ongoing costs.