Rural landlords warns of ‘devastating impact’ on rented housing by ‘backdoor’ Covid legislation

Plans to extend housing tenants’ rights that were introduced as an emergency measure during the Covid-19 pandemic will have a “devastating” effect on the private rented housing sector, rural landlords have warned.

Rural landlords warns of 'devastating impact' on rented housing by 'backdoor' Covid legislation

Sarah-Jane Laing

Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), which represents rural businesses across Scotland, said tenancy proposals contained within the Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill could lead to the loss of thousands of homes being lost to the rental market.

According to the membership body, the proposed changes in law would have an impact on all types of landlords – whether they own a single property or multiple homes they let out and could lead to a substantial loss in the value of a property where a landlord could not regain vacant possession.

During the covid-19 pandemic, all grounds for eviction of a tenant were temporarily made discretionary. This Bill seeks to make this change permanent and a tribunal would be asked to rule on a landlord’s desire to evict a tenant and reclaim vacant possession.

In effect, SLE said, a tribunal will not have to automatically evict people, even where the tenant fails to comply with the conditions set out in their tenancy agreement, including non-payment of rent.

SLE has raised concerns that these far-reaching proposals are being introduced through the Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill rather than through a housing Bill that would be subject to full parliamentary scrutiny.

It said these measures appear to go far beyond the public health rationale contained in other elements of the bill - and the issues trying to be solved are far from clearly defined. Added to this, rather than reduce the burden on public services and reduce workload for the tribunal, this will make an already lengthy process even longer, SLE added.

Sarah-Jane Laing, chief executive of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “Rural landlords are gravely concerned that measures to address a public health crisis and our coronavirus recovery are instead being used as a smokescreen to diminish the rights of property owners. This applies to everyone who rents out property, be that a single flat in a city or homes in rural areas.

“Mandatory grounds for reclaiming a property, such as wanting to sell the property or wanting to live in the house yourself, will become discretionary, meaning that a tribunal could agree that your reasons for reclaiming the property are valid but they do not necessarily need to grant an eviction order.

“If any landlord is unable to regain vacant possession there is evidence from property professionals which clearly states that this could crush the value of a property by up to 50%.

“The Scottish Government recently published its Scottish Household Survey 2020 which showed that 94% of households in the Private Rented Sector were very or fairly satisfied. Analysis of the consultation on the Bill also shows that most responders opposed the proposals. Therefore, we’d question what is driving government to pursue such drastic changes when tenants themselves are happy and there has been major opposition to their implementation.”

She continued: “Given the restrictions that will be placed on landlords by this legislation and others, we are concerned landlords will feel compelled to remove their properties from the sector, either by selling or converting them into holiday lets. We know that a large number of people living in rural areas across Scotland rely on the provision of affordable rental properties and, if these are taken off the market, there will be a dramatic shortage of houses for these workers. This will have a knock-on impact on the rural communities in which these tenants work.

“Whilst this legislation will affect landlords who own several rental properties in both rural and urban settings, it will also have a severe impact on those landlords who own single properties and who seek to use these as a means to fund their retirement. Most of these properties will have been purchased with this goal in mind, but this legislation could retrospectively make this ambition redundant.”

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