Call for 'rates holidays'
Landlords ‘should not be penalised’ by new powers
Robin Blacklock: ‘we must recognise landlords are businesses’ (pic: Terry Murden)
UPDATE: A property leader says landlords should receive protection, such as rates holidays, as part of new measures being introduced by parliament in the wake of the coronavirus.
New powers will prevent tenants being evicted in the event of facing difficulties paying their rent.
But landlords also need to be supported and should not be penalised with empty property rates charges for vacant premises that they cannot re-let during this crisis, says Robin Blacklock, chairman of the Scottish Property Federation.
Parliament is due to vote today on the emergency powers to deal with the effects of the pandemic.
The include a range of provisions designed to ensure businesses, consumers and public services continue to operate effectively.
Across the public sector, there are changes to the deadlines involved in planning and local authority licensing to reflect the fact that much of that business has been suspended and construction slowed due to the impact of COVID-19.
We are recommending landlords take a pragmatic approach where possible– Robin Blacklock, SPF
Public bodies will also be allowed to simplify the ways in which they report their activities, including publishing information online for a temporary period.
To protect private and social sector tenants from eviction, the minimum notice period for tenants is being increased to up to six months “giving people peace of mind that their accommodation is secure.”
Mr Blacklock said the property sector supports the bill and deferring commercial rental payments in the current crisis, but he says there is a need to ensure landlords do not suffer.
“We welcome this extraordinary Bill, which supports the public health emergency and recognises the economic challenges we are facing due to COVID-19.
“The SPF is urging its members to do as much as possible to support society in general during this unprecedented crisis.
“We are encouraging all members to put the welfare of the nation at the forefront of all decisions, and we are recommending landlords take a pragmatic approach where possible.
“We believe that setting a level playing field for deferring commercial rental payments and any irritancy proceedings is sensible in the current circumstances.
“Leading members have already been supporting tenants to manage rental obligations as the economy adapts to the restrictions on population movements, and as residents and businesses struggle with financial obligations through no fault of their own.
“However, we must also recognise that landlords are businesses and employers that depend on cash-flow to stay in operation and maintain jobs.
“Many commercial property owners in Scotland will also have significant responsibilities to their investors including pension funds.
“Landlords also need to be supported and should not be penalised with empty property rates charges for vacant premises that they cannot re-let during this crisis.”
Following an outcry from lawyers and politicians the Scottish government has now dropped plans to hold trials without juries during the coronavirus lockdown.
These are emergency powers that are necessary to allow us to concentrate on the absolute priority of dealing with the pandemic– Michael Russell, Constitution Secretary
There is a power to release certain prisoners if needed – similar to the position in England and Wales – and other adjustments to criminal procedure, family law and civil justice to allow many hearings to take place remotely.
Constitution Secretary Michael Russell said: “We are in an emergency and these are emergency powers that are necessary to allow us to concentrate on the absolute priority of dealing with the pandemic.
“Some of these measures are about the continuing function of the justice system and public services to maintain public confidence and to keep our communities safe.
“For example, we cannot simply summon juries at present – that would be completely impossible. The procedure to have solemn trials without a jury is in the Bill, but there are many safeguards. These are exceptional powers and, if they are used, they have to be used exceptionally carefully.
“We are also providing more direct help to protect private and social tenants from eviction and provide security to households facing financial hardship in the coming months.
“We have fully involved opposition parties in the Bill’s development and it is important for democracy that we tell the people of Scotland regularly when and how it is being used and be fully accountable for our actions.”
The majority of the emergency measures in the Bill will automatically expire six months after they come into force. The Scottish Parliament may extend these measures for two further periods of six months, giving the measures in the Bill a maximum duration of 18 months.
The Scottish Government will provide a report to Parliament every two months about the use of these emergency powers.
The Scottish Conservatives will support the majority of proposals.
However, amendments will be sought on plans to change Freedom of Information laws and to scrap jury trials.