Scotland’s Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) Bill will permanently reform the evictions process in the country, and landlords are warning that it will severely damage investment.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the First Tier Tribunal had to grant an eviction order automatically when certain mandatory grounds for eviction applied – for example, if the landlord wanted to sell the property. Under temporary legislation brought in during the pandemic to keep tenants in their homes, the Tribunal could rule on whether the grounds were reasonable, and grant or deny an eviction order at their discretion. Under the bill, those temporary rules would become permanent, meaning that landlords cannot count on an eviction being granted anymore.
When landlords want to evict a tenant over rent arrears specifically, they will also have a three step pre-action protocol to follow. Like the discretionary eviction grounds, this was brought in as a temporary rule during the pandemic but will now remain in force permanently.
Under the rules, landlords must first clearly inform the tenant of the (payment) terms of their tenancy agreement, the amount they owe in arrears, the pre-action protocol and eviction process, and where they can go to access information and advice. The landlord must then make a reasonable effort to agree a payment plan with the tenant, and give reasonable consideration to any steps the tenant takes to comply with that payment plan.
If the landlord decides to go ahead with the eviction on the grounds of rent arrears, the First Tier Tribunal will check that they have complied with the pre-action requirements, and take this into account when deciding whether or not to grant the eviction. The Scottish government’s guidance recommends that landlords document all steps they take.
Scottish property industry groups warned that these permanent changes to eviction rules could devastate the supply of rented housing. Making it harder to remove tenants over non-payment makes it riskier to rent out homes, they argue, and this could prompt many landlords to sell up before the Bill comes into force.
However, the Scottish government has responded that the Bill just brings private tenancies in line with council and housing association tenancies, where all eviction grounds were already discretionary well before the pandemic.
The Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) Bill passed the first stage of the parliamentary process last week. It will now be open to amendments during two further stages before going to a final vote. Landlords will have to wait to see what form the legislation eventually takes – and the impact it has on their sector.
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