Landlords are not the bad guys of pandemic - David Alexander

At the end of last week, temporary measures to prevent evictions in Scotland that had been due to end on 30 September have now been extended to 31 March 2022, with the potential to be extended further, until 30 September 2022.

David Alexander is managing director of DJ Alexander
David Alexander is managing director of DJ Alexander

The news hardly came as a surprise. Over the past few weeks I became increasingly resigned to the fact as covid-19 infections started to rise again and a return to something like normal working remained on the back burner.

But is this all to do with the pandemic or is there an additional agenda behind the move?

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Sadly, there is more than a tinge of anti-landlord sentiment not just within the majority party at Holyrood but also among a fair proportion of opposition MSPs as well. While not doubting that the restrictions will end eventually, the decision to extend shows just how little understanding there is of the predicament of landlords.

Let me be clear that no right-thinking person wishes to see someone lose their home having become a jobless victim of covid-19, which is why so many landlords have taken a financial hit to keep affected tenants in situ. And engaging personally with landlords I know their actions were not solely driven by self-interest – i.e. that because replacement tenants were few and far between there was no alternative but to reduce rents or offer rent-free periods: there really was a genuine desire to offer help.

So in this respect last week’s decision was unnecessary given that many tenants are still being given leeway to enable them to keep a roof over their heads.

Anyway, long before the pandemic manifested itself, tight restrictions on evictions were already in place in Scotland because of the incredibly long – and, for the landlord, often costly – procedure of obtaining repossession from “difficult” tenants.

The two principle reasons for evictions – when they do take place – are anti-social behaviour and rent arrears. Of the two, the former is extremely difficult to define because it is so often subject to different interpretation. And even in circumstances where anti-social behaviour is clearly beyond doubt (and there is a record of police visits to a problem tenant) achieving an eviction still tends to be a long and tortuous process.

Rent arrears are, of course, more of an exact science and usually easy to prove but the affected landlord still has to go through a defined eviction process, as a result of which he or she almost always ends up out of pocket – in some cases substantially so. Having said that, some landlords (usually of the DIY kind) are authors of their own misfortune, having failed to carry out background checks prior to choosing a tenant.

Sadly, continued restriction on evictions until the spring of next year will compound the present situation, leading to further delay and expense when the Housing and Property Chamber (or ‘Tribunal’ for short) returns to its pre-pandemic working schedule.

Tenants are not the only parties to have suffered hardship over the past 15 months. Some landlords have had the double whammy of losing their jobs and income from a single buy to let flat (bought to provide a pension later in life). Meanwhile firms operating a small portfolio of flats have seen much of their business dry up, just like retailers and leisure operators.

More in hope than expectation, the time has surely come for the Scottish Government to stop looking upon tenants and landlords as David and Goliath characters and more as two parties of equal value with a mutual self-interest and who, for the most part, play by the rules.

David Alexander is managing director of DJ Alexander

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