A lot of people are experiencing financial hardship across Scotland due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This hardship has left many tenants in the private rented sector concerned about whether they can afford to pay their rent, and if not whether this means they can be evicted by their landlord.
Private Residential Tenancies
If a residential tenant entered into a lease with a private landlord on or after 1 December 2017, it will be known as a Private Residential Tenancy ("PRT"). Tenants should check which type of tenancy they have before relying on this information, as it is only relevant to PRTs. Landlords have the right to evict tenants under a PRT if certain grounds are met under the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016. At present there are 18 grounds in total, with the tenant being in rent arrears for three or more consecutive months being one of them.
To lawfully evict a tenant, the landlord must serve notice to leave on the tenant setting out the ground(s) for eviction, then wait for the expiry of the relevant notice period before applying to the First-tier Tribunal for an eviction order.
The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020
Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Scottish Parliament has passed emergency legislation to prevent people becoming homeless due to financial hardship. The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 provides an extension to the notice period required to be given in a notice to leave before a landlord can apply for an eviction order, depending on the ground used. This increases the length of time before a tenant can be evicted, which provides a greater degree of protection in the current economic climate.
The eviction provisions will expire on 30 September 2020, but the Scottish Government may extend that date to 31 March 2021, or for a second (and last) time to 30 September 2021 if so required. The Scottish Ministers can also suspend the legislation in whole or part at any time.
The Minimum Notice Period
For a landlord seeking to evict a tenant for rent arrears, the minimum notice period before an eviction order can be applied for has been increased to six months. The legislation suspends the mandate to evict for rent arrears, placing it within the First-tier Tribunal's discretion to decide if it is reasonable to issue an eviction order on this ground.
Firstly, as a tenant, you should contact your landlord as soon as possible to advise if you are (or will be) unable to pay your rent. Next look at what additional support you may be eligible for to help pay rent throughout this time, such as Universal Credit or a Discretionary Housing Payment. The extension of the notice period only delays the landlord's ability to obtain an eviction order. You will still need to pay rent and your landlord will be able to seek to recover the rent from you.
To mitigate any impact on mortgage payments, your landlord should contact their mortgage provider to explain the change in their rental income due to your Coronavirus-related hardship. Most mortgage lenders have agreed to offer payment holidays of up to three months to assist in easing financial difficulty due to COVID-19, and your landlord's provider can arrange the break in payments as required.