This is a brief blog to explain the background to the rented housing amendments I lodged at Stage 2 of the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Bill on Tuesday 19 May and those I intend to lodge at Stage 3 to be considered on Wednesday 20 May.

The Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Bill is the second piece of emergency legislation to come before the Scottish Parliament. The first was the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act passed in a single day on 1 April.

Both pieces of legislation are designed to respond to the challenges posed by Covid-19 and typically make some administrative changes to how the courts and public bodies work as well as some more substantive policy changes in housing, licensing and justice.

Many people are facing new hardships due to job losses, declines in incomes and wider insecurities. These include renters who, like everyone else, are required to stay at home but whose security in their home its subject to laws on housing tenancies and the attitudes of landlords.

Responding to this, the first Act extended the period of notice required to be given by a landlord to a tenant if they wished to evict them. This was designed to ensure that renters could not be evicted during the pandemic. These reforms, however, did nothing to stop evictions being initiated during the so-called emergency period. I lodged a series of amendments to prohibit any evictions being sought during the crisis (not simply require longer notice periods). These amendments were rejected by Parliament.

Since 1 April it has become clear that longer notice periods will not be sufficient to deal with the hardship likely to be faced by many tenants – hardships that will extend beyond the emergency period when landlords will, if nothing changes, be within their rights to seek to evict tenants once again on the grounds of rent arrears that may have accrued as a result of hardship during the crisis.

So, when the new Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Bill was introduced to Parliament on Monday 11 May I took the opportunity to propose amendments that would seek to deal with the post-covid period. I notified the Housing Minister on Tuesday 12 May of my intentions and invited him to discuss my proposed amendments with a view to potentially supporting them at Stage 2 (or stating why he could not).

I received no response.

Thus I lodged amendments 16-20 which did four main things.

Amendment 16 established a tenant Hardship Fund to respond to tenants in particularly acute distress.

Amendment 17 sought to freeze rents for two years.

Amendment 18 provided that in certain circumstances (to be seat out by Ministers) rent liability for some tenants facing particular hardship could be extinguished.

Amendments 19 and 20 were deigned to ensure that any rent areas accrued during the crisis would continue to be payable to landlords but could not be ground for eviction. This would prevent tenants losing their home but they would continue to be liable to pay any rent arrears accrued.

A number of parties including social housing interests wrote to the Committee with their concerns. I was not copied in to any of these representations and thus was unable to respond to them.

All the amendments were defeated by SNP and Conservative members of the Committee with the Liberal Democrat member supporting three of them and opposing two of them.

The arguments can be seen in the draft Official Report of the Meeting. All the housing amendments were dealt with at the beginning of the meeting.

Debate now moves onto Stage 3, the amendment deadline for which is 0930 on Wednesday 20 April. I am lodging a similar suite of amendments again but further amended to reflect objections made at Stage 2.

Amendment 16 will be taken forward by Pauline McNeill MSP (note that these numbers relate to the Stage 2 amendments, the amendment numbers for Stage 3 will be different)

Amendment 17 will now apply only to the private rented sector and the baseline date will be 1 April so as not to disadvantage landlords who have reduced rents during the crisis.

Amendment 18 now makes clear that writing off rents is only for tenants facing unusual or extreme hardship and it will be for Ministers to define this in regulations. It is NOT and NEVER was framed as a broad writing off of rent.

Amendments 19 and 20 now apply only to the private rented sector and make explicit that arrears can only be disregarded for the purpose of evictions (but remain payable) if the arrears are directly liked to coronavirus.

The redrafted amendments focus the intentions more explicitly, respond to objections and remain a modes but important suite of reforms designed to afford proportionate protections to tenants facing hardship because of factors beyond their control.

Scotland still lags behind many continental European countries in tenants rights and politicians continue to instinctively protect propertied interests rather than the interests of tenants. Since the propertied class have assets, they are relatively well off. For tenants, however, we are talking about their homes, the schools their children attend and the jobs they have. Tenants stand to possibly lose all of this and be kicked out of their homes. Landlords will still have a valuable asset.

It is time to stand up for the human right to a home.

6 Comments

  1. There is no sane purpose in evicting families from homes when the reason for rent arrears etc is due to somthing beyond their control. It’s failing their human rights and leaves a dirty blot on Scotland’s conscience. Surely during such difficult times all cases of hardship should be considered and means put in place to help those in dire need. Corona Virus should be reason enough to give non payment of rent a rest and allow tenants to remain in their homes until such times as their circumstances change. Surely this virus has taught us all a valuable lesson to care a little bit more for each other and hope landlords can work together with tenants and not against them.

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  2. As an SNP member, I am unhappy that some SNP Ministers voted against your Bill. I find this extremely concerning and one has to wonder where their interests lie.

    Thank you for all that you do.

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  3. Thank you for all that you do

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  4. Andy,

    I also have been in the court recently and have had a lot to deal with relating to the case. So much so I have been unable to pay attention to housing matters which I am concerned about and that directly concern me. In late August 2018 we sold our large house in Dumfries and purchased a much smaller one just north of Gretna. Both of us have not in the past made provision for our old age. We used the surplus funds to purchase three three-bedroom, run down houses. We brought these up to a good standard and let them out to families. We get about £500.00 each in rent that supplements our state pension. So far we have been fortunate in that two out of three of our tenants seem to be unaffected by the pandemic. However, one of my tenants lost his job about a month before the lockdown (we have only learnt of this recently) and is now two months in arrears. He has refused all contact with us or our agents Your Move. He was advised in early April to apply for Universal Credit but we have no way of knowing if he did apply and the outcome of that application. You write “Since the propertied class have assets, they are relatively well off.” On one view of the rental sector there are two classes of landlord; the large landlords with hundreds of housing units but the majority of landlords own less than five houses. I have told every tenant that we have had that our aim is to provide a decent home in the hope that the tenants stay for a long time. I absolutely know what the tenant I write about will do (or not do). He will stay in my house without paying a penny of rent for as long as he can in the knowledge that as the law stands I can do nothing about it. There appears to be no compulsion on him to give me that part of his Universal Credit that he has been given to pay his rent. Can I suggest that you consider that ‘unreasonable behaviour” be a ground for a sheriff to grant an eviction order.

    I look forward to hearing from you and wish you well in your work on behalf of the community,

    Brian G. Hamilton

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  5. I broadly agree with your amendments. Becoming a landlord means holding the wellbeing and security of another human being in your hand. It should not be done as lightly and easily as it often is in the UK.
    Reading the official report of the meeting reveals a bias that essentially tenants are not to be trusted to behave responsibly and that the property of the landlord and his rentier income is sacrosanct.

    Landlords already have protection in the form of mortgage holidays and government guarantees for self-employed income. No-one should be riding out this pandemic with a potential eviction notice hanging over their head. That is obscene. Let’s at least take that worry away.

    My daughter lost her flat because the landlord would not countenance taking a 30% reduction in rent after she lost her job in a bistro due to Covid19. Her flat now lies empty, she moved back to our house and four of us are currently squeezed into a two-bedroomed home.

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