Tom Gordon

MINISTERS have been accused of creating a “hostile investment environment” for landlords after it emerged many had to wait almost a year to evict tenants who fail to pay rent.

Official figures show the average eviction now takes more than 310 days following a change to the law which was supposed to improve the system.

The law firm which uncovered the scale of the delays through freedom of information said it showed the “unacceptable pressure” on landlords.

Aberdein Considine said many landlords had been left thousands of pounds out of pocket and were giving up, and warned it could mean a shrinking private sector and higher rents.

Adrian Sangster, National Lettings Director at Aberdein Considine, said: “Scotland’s landlords already feel unfairly targeted after a number of taxation changes, such as the Additional Dwelling Supplement.

“To now also have to wait ten months to secure an eviction and re-let is adding further unacceptable pressure.

“The private rented sector still plays a vital and necessary part in Scotland’s housing mix, due largely to the failure of successive governments to build enough social housing.

“By creating this increasingly hostile investment market for landlords, governments risk driving investors away, and by default cutting the availability of properties for let and driving up average rents.”

In 2017, to ease pressure on Scotland’s courts, the SNP Government moved all rent and repair issues in private sector housing to a new Housing and Property Chamber Tribunal based in Glasgow.

Social housing and rent arrears cases remained in the Sheriff Court.

It became free to raise actions in the new tribunal, rather than £102 in court, but claims for eviction and arrears had to raised separately, whereas they could be combined in court applications.

The result was the Tribunal being swamped with cases, with more than 3800 applications last year alone.

Freedom of Information requests found the average time from eviction application to the granting of an eviction order was 141 days, around 50 days longer than in court.

However the eviction process can only begin after three months of rent arrears.

There is also a 28-day notice period required by law, plus two days intimation, around a week for the tribunal’s written decision, followed by a 30-day appeal period.

Adding the 14 days for a charge for removal, the total time rises to 312 days.

Aberdein Considine said that, as a result, a typical eviction application process leaves landlords with several months of unpaid arrears, and unable to re-let their properties for up to nine months.

In the worst case to date, one landlord had to wait 429 days just to secure an eviction order.

Aberdein Considine Solicitor Advocate Carly Stewart, who unearthed the figures and has acted for a number of landlords in the Tribunal, said: “The move to the new tribunal process is a positive one, but understandably any changes will take time to get right.

“Even the most average, straightforward application is taking a lengthy period of time to process through the tribunal. The fastest application to date still took 80 days.

“This needs to be looked at.”

Despite creating the legislation which gave rise to it, the Scottish Government said the Tribunal was an independent independent judicial body and the Lord President, as the head of the judiciary, was responsible for its operation.

A spokesperson said: “Ministers have taken significant action to increase security and stability for those living in the private rented sector, including protection from unlawful eviction and wrongful terminations.

“We recognise that rent arrears can be a serious concern for landlords and agree that landlords must be able to recover possession of their property when they follow the correct legal procedures for eviction.

“However, the Scottish Government considers it entirely appropriate that when seeking to evict someone from their home, this should be done following a fair judicial process.”