It’s been a busy year in terms of legislation in the Scottish lettings industry. The introduction of the Private Residential Tenancy (PRT) in December 2017 has led to major change in the industry and has brought with it clear benefits for both landlords and tenants in Scotland. The PRT means that private residential tenancies are open-ended, rent can only be increased once every 12 months (with three months’ notice), the landlord must give at least 84 days’ notice to leave if a tenant has lived in a property for longer than six months, and a simpler ‘notice to leave’ process is now in place.
As such, this new legislation offers tenants increased security of their tenure, as well as fewer ways in which they can be subjected to eviction. At the same time, the PRT has meant increased security for landlords too, since changes to rent arrears legislation means that landlords are able to refer a case for repossession more quickly.
When the PRT legislation was first announced, there was much concern regarding the possibility of tenants abusing the new system to their own ends, but we have seen no evidence of this at Your Move Scotland. When tenancies end early, it is almost always the result of a change in the landlord’s personal circumstances, rather than tenants deciding to chop and change tenancies at their whim. In fact, it appears that Scotland’s private tenants are happy to have long-term security, so there is a lot to be optimistic about.
Whilst the introduction of the Land Building Transaction Tax (LBTT) in April 2015 initially dissuaded some landlords from entering the sector, we have seen new landlords enter the Scottish market this year. As lettings agents we have had a valuable role to play in his transition period from Short Assured Tenancies (SATs) to PRTs for long-time landlords.
2018 also saw the introduction of the Letting Agent Code of Practice. By 30thSeptember 2018, all agencies were required to sign up to the new rules if they wished to continue operating in the sector. These rules were introduced to increase professionalism within the sector and ensure that agents are properly able to handle money received from both tenants and landlords. Registered agents should receive a Letting Agent Registration Number and at Your Move Scotland we’recalling on landlords and tenants to check that their agency has applied for this and is in fact compliant with these new rules.
Throughout the year, lettings agents have been engaged in informative conversations with both landlords and tenants to guarantee their tenancies run as smoothly as possible and any queries they may have are resolved efficiently. Regulated agents not only constantly monitor the market for potential changes to existing legislation, but also the impact that any new legislation will have on landlords. For example, Your Move is a member of The Property Ombudsman (TPO), which means that we must abide by their codes of practice for both sales and lettings. We also have ARLA (Association of Residential Lettings Agents) qualified staff at lettings branches, assuring clients and customers of the highest standards of service.
The benefits of using a managing agent
As increasing amounts of legislation are introduced in the lettings industry, it is of prime importance that landlords are being supported by a professional agent. Agents are in a fantastic position to get it right for landlords and their tenants, as they deal with different tenancies on a daily basis, have established processes in place, with qualified staff on-hand to help. In the event of challenges that might crop up in the lettings process, agents have a wealth of experience, particularly in front-end marketing, credit referencing and at the end of the lease procedure.
By comparison, DIY landlords who are choosing to manage properties themselves are often making errors, mainly due to the introduction of PRT. As a result, these landlords are not serving correct notices for arrears or eviction.
Landlords also need to think abouthow the recently introduced First Tier Tribunals work in Scotland.These have replaced the Sheriffs Court and were formed to deal with determinations of rent or repair issues and evictions in PRS. Despite the First Tier Tribunals being free, for landlords who choose to go it alone, the amount of time, effort and documentation needed can often outweigh this benefit. Using a managing agent – who can support them in this - can unburden landlords of some of this stress as well.
As lettings agents, we have a duty to act in a fair, professional, compliant manner, so we should really be embracing more regulation in the industry. As a result of the Lettings Agent Code of Practice (LACP) that came into force in January 2018, legislation in the industry increased by 60% and membership of ARLA Propertymark in Scotland has grown.
As awareness of regulation grows, landlords should be taking the opportunity to challenge their agents – does their lettings agent have the appropriate qualifications? Are they regulated? Do they adhere to the LACP? These are all questions savvy landlords should be asking in 2019.
Changes to EPC legislation
Another important piece of legislation coming into force in 2020 is the minimum energy efficiency standards for private rental properties. By 1st April 2020, any new tenancy will require the property to have an EPC rating of at least band E. By 31st March 2022, all properties will need to have an EPC rating of at least band E.
Whilst this seems a long way off, good lettings agents will spend 2019 informing landlords of the upcoming changes so that they can begin preparations. Landlords who fail to comply will face fines of up to £4,000 if their property’s rating is not up to the new standard, so it is absolutely in their interest to start thinking about this in the new year.
After a year filled with new regulation and legislation, it’s likely the real benefits of these changes to be seen in 2019. At Your Move Scotland, we will be working hard to ensure that all landlords are fully informed and compliant so that we can deliver a more successful lettings experience for everyone involved.
Brian Moran is lettings director at Your Move Scotland.