COVID-19 – Advice for Letting Agents
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to change rapidly, and with this, so does the advice and guidance for letting agents. The purpose of this page is to provide the most up to date information for letting agents. We will update this page as and when new information and guidance becomes available.
Carrying out letting agent business during COVID-19 pandemic
Should our offices be closed?
The advice from the Government is that all letting agents 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.
Can we access a property to conduct viewings?
The Government recommends that letting agents and tenants engage constructively about access to a property, and that it is only for serious and urgent issues. This means that no one should visit the property to conduct viewings, or anything else which is not urgent and health and safety-related.
If you have a pre-recorded video viewing, you can upload this to Lettingweb.
Can we still allow tenants to move into properties?
The Government has advised that 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, social distancing measures should be carried out by everyone – ensuring a distance of two meters is kept between anybody who is not from the same household. You should also limit the number of people present in line with public gathering rules. Where move-ins do take place, you should follow Scottish Government advice on hygiene and cleanliness before, during and after visits.
The Housing and Property Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal that deals with eviction cases, will not be hearing cases until at least 28 May, however it could be much longer.
Scottish ministers have approved legislation which makes changes to the eviction procedure for tenancies in the private and social rented sector.
These changes apply from 6 April until 30 September 2020. There is however provision in the legislation for the end date to be amended.
During the period detailed above all evictions will be discretionary, meaning if the tenant doesn’t voluntarily vacate and the landlord has to apply for an eviction order at the tribunal, the tribunal may decide to exercise a reasonableness test in deciding whether to evict the tenant or not. This means that the tribunal will decide based on the circumstances of the case whether the tenant’s need/right to occupy the property is outweighed by the landlord’s need/right to repossess the property.
The legislation makes changes to the notice period that the landlord is required to give the tenant. The notice period depends on the type of tenancy and the eviction ground being used.
Private Residential Tenancies
The notice period depends on the ground being used, as detailed below.
Ground 1 – landlord selling – 6 months
Ground 4 – landlord moving in – 3 months
Ground 5 – landlord’s family member moving in – 3 months
Ground 10 – tenant not occupying property – 28 days
Ground 11 – breach of tenancy terms – 6 months
Ground 12 – tenant has owed some rent for 3 months – 6 months
Ground 13 – criminal behaviour – 3 months
Ground 14 – anti-social behaviour – 3 months
Ground 15 – association with person with criminal conviction/engaged in anti-social behaviour – 3 months
Ground 16 – landlord has been refused registration or had registration revoked – 3 months
Ground 17 – landlord’s HMO licence has been revoked – 3 months
All other grounds – 6 months
Please Note: An amended version of the Notice to Leave should be issued for the time the Act is in force.
Assured/Short Assured Tenancies
Ending a short assured tenancy using a notice to quit and section 33 notice – 6 months’ notice ending on an ish date of the tenancy.
Ending an assured/short assured tenancy using an AT6 notice – the notice period depends on the ground being used, as detailed below.
Ground 1 – required as or previously used as landlord’s principal home – 3 months
Ground 8 – 3 months’ rent arrears – 6 months
Ground 9 – suitable alternative accommodation available – 2 months
Ground 11 – persistent delay in paying rent – 6 months
Ground 12 – some rent unpaid – 6 months
Ground 13 – breach of tenancy terms – 6 months
Ground 15 – anti-social behaviour – 3 months
All other grounds – 6 months
Please Note: An amended version of the AT6 should be issued for the time the Act is in force.
Moving out and Private residential tenancies
A tenant will still have to give 28 days notice in writing. The notice has to state the day on which the tenancy is to end, normally the day after notice period has expired.
Repairs and access
With social distancing measures being put in place and self-isolation becoming the norm for many people, the subject of access to properties will come up.
Can I still go ahead with visits and inspections?
The Government has advised that 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.
What about repairs and urgent health and safety issues?
You have the same responsibilities for repairs during the COVID-19 outbreak. You should use your best efforts to make the repair. However, if you are unable to do so you should record this fact and that this is related to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Tenants should continue to report repairs as soon as possible.
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’s guidance.
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
What about gas safety checks?
Letting agents should postpone routine certification requirements during the crisis and carry them out as soon as possible after the COVID-19 pandemic 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.
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, you should document your attempts to do so and all correspondence with your tenants.
The government has delayed the launch of the Energy Efficiency (Domestic Private Rented Property) (Scotland) Regulations 2020, which were due to come into force on 1 April 2020.
The work on improving energy efficiency in private rented housing will resume once the current COVID-19 crisis comes to an end and the regulations may still come into force before the first trigger point of 1 October 2020.
Support and advice for letting agents
How will our businesses get help financially?
Registered Letting Agents will understandably have very serious concerns over how they will continue to operate during this period.
The UK and Scottish Governments have outlined plans to provide businesses with support.
You can find business support on gov.scot
A helpline providing businesses across Scotland with advice and guidance on COVID-19 was also launched by the Scottish Government on 13 March. The helpline is open Monday to Friday between 8.30am and 5.30pm: Call 0300 303 0660.
Announcements will also be made by the UK and Scottish Governments:
UK finance has published information for businesses in recognition that the cash flow of small and medium sized businesses may be disrupted by the impact of the COVID-19 to help you prepare and understand the options available.
The Job Retention Scheme
Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, all UK employers with a PAYE scheme will be able to access support to continue paying part of their employees’ salary for those that would otherwise have been laid off during this crisis.
This applies to employees who have been asked to stop working, but who are being kept on the payroll, otherwise described as ‘furloughed workers’. HMRC will reimburse 80% of their wages, up to £2,500 per month.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will cover the cost of wages backdated to 1 March and is initially open for 3 months, but will be extended if the Government believes it is necessary.
Find out more about the Job Retention Scheme
Rent and advice for tenants
Do my tenants still have to pay rent? How can I support them if they have been affected financially by the pandemic and are worried about paying their rent?
Tenants still have a legal responsibility to pay rent for the property and if their circumstances have not changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, they are required to pay the rental amount, as normal on the agreed date.
You should encourage tenants to contact you as soon as possible if they are in, or they believe they will be, in financial difficulty and unable to pay their rent.
Tenants affected by COVID-19 who are concerned about paying rent can apply for Universal Credit. The UK Government has introduced some temporary changes to make this easier.
If a tenant is in receipt of Housing Benefit or Universal Credit, but still can’t afford the cost of housing, they could be eligible for a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP). Further information on DHPs and how to apply.
Tenants can access more advice at our Tenant Advice Page