Rural landlords letting residential property in Scotland have no doubt become used to the myriad of legislative changes affecting the sector in recent years, but perhaps the most landmark change will come into force through the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act.
The new law, passed by the Scottish Parliament in mid-March and due to come into effect in late 2017, will see a significant shift in how tenancies are structured, with the previous six-month initial tenancy period replaced by an indefinite 'rolling contract' agreed between landlord and tenant. If a tenant wishes to leave a property, he or she will now only have to provide 28 days' notice to the landlord at any point during the tenancy - even within the first few months.
The legislation also sees the removal of the 'no-fault ground' route to repossession of a property by a landlord. If a landlord wishes to take back possession of a property - against the wishes of a tenant - the the landlord will need to apply to a new Housing and Property Tribunal system and make his or her case to evict based on one or more of 17 stipulated grounds.
Included in the new Act are new powers on the setting of rent, including an opportunity for local authorities to implement rent caps in areas where there are deemed to be excessive increases in local markets.
The Scottish Government has said the legislation was necessary to rebalance the relationship between landlords and tenants to allow tenants to feel more secure in their homes. But for landlords across the country - especially in rural areas - there may well be a feeling that the legislation does little to protect their interests and therefore even greater attention will have to be paid to the way in which their properties are let.
In addition to the Act as outlined above in the following areas have been subject to further regulation:
- Fire Detection
Smoke alarms were previously required in every circulation space of the dwelling i.e. hallways on each floor. The regulations now require smoke/heat alarms to be located in the main living area of the house, and a heat alarm in the kitchen. Alarms need to be hardwired and interlinked.
- Carbon monoxide detection
Carbon monoxide alarms are now required in every space where a combustion appliance is situated. This can include a gas cooked, oil boiler, log/multi-fuel stove or an open fire and also where a flue pipe passes through a bedroom. CO alarms can be battery operated so long as they are sealed long-life units.
- Electrical testing
There are now clear regulations on the requirement to have fixed electrical wiring tested at regular intervals. An Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) must now be carried out every five years. Sine December 1 2015 all new tenancies have needed a copy of the current EICR handed over with the tenant information pack, and from December 1 this year all tenancies will be required by law to have a current EICR. The EICR must be carried out by a person who is a member of the NICEIC or SELECT or an employee of a firm registered with either regulatory body.
HSE have clarified that residential landlords are legally bound to ensure that the risk of exposure of Legionella to tenants is properly controlled and managed. The first step is to have a risk assessment carried out on the property by a competent person. This will highlight areas which require action, such as periodic flushing of little used taps, cleaning shower heads, regulating water temperatures or removing any redundant pipework.
New Construction Design and Management (CDM) regulations apply to certain works carried out on let to certain properties including boiler replacement, installing wood burners, painting, carpet fitting, electrical work and any construction work. Under the regulations an appropriate Construction Phase Plan (CPP) must be drawn up to cover various health and safety issues. The regulations are more onerous where more than one contractor is involved.
These changes mean residential letting is no longer for the faint-hearted, but the nature of the Scottish property market means there is a continuing demand for properties to rent.