SOME 15,000 Scots landlords are expected to pursue evictions for rent arrears totalling £126m, leading to fears of a homelessness "tsunami".

As the Covid eviction ban has effectively been lifted as lockdown restrictions eased, a new survey has found that one-in-five landlords reported current tenancies in arrears at July 2021, which scaled up to 45,000 across Scotland.

The analysis from the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE) found that 9,000 landlords are at the stage where they have issued a Notice to Leave for one or more tenancies.

And a further 4,500 have applied or are applying for an eviction order.

It also reveals the average length of arrears is five months and typically £2,800 per tenancy, with the highest debt found in Edinburgh and Glasgow at £3,645.

The CaCHE, examination, funded by the Economic & Social Research Council involved surveying 1732 private rented sector landlords in Scotland said the amount of arrears was "far higher" than they expected.

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It warned that a "tsunami of evictions" had not yet materialised because the "arrears crisis" will have a "long tail" partly due to a lag in dealing with the numbers within the tribunal system, and because there is some landlord reluctance to evict tenants for both moral and pragamatic reasons.

And it warned a new £10m Tenant Hardship Grant Fund introduced by the Scottish Government which is expected to further aid councils in preventing evictions as a result of Covid-19 related rent arrears appeared to be "underfunded" and could lead to a postcode lottery of support as it is being administered by local authorities with differing priorities.

The Scottish Tenants Organisation (STO) said the analysis has raised genuine concerns of an "impending tsunami of evictions."

HeraldScotland:

"This research shows that 15,000 private sector landlords are going to evict financially vulnerable tenants in in Scotland in the months to come. This will overwhelm councils that have to legally provide temporary accommodation to homeless households.

"The solution is for the Scottish Government to restore the eviction ban and to increase substantially their funding of £10 million to help tackle rent arrears in Scotland. Anything less will be a disaster for the poor and destitute," said Sean Clerkin, STO's campaign co-ordinator.

As a large proportion of arrears cases have not yet reached three months in duration - accounting for 41% of landlords with current debt - CaCHE warned it was likely that any evictions resulting from the current cases would not fall until the end of the first three months of 2022 and onwards.

It warned that arrears reaching tribunals now will have grown to 13.3 months on average by the time an eviction order is granted - far higher than the 8.9 month pre-pandemic levels.

CaCHE, a consortium of 14 institutions led by the University of Glasgow said that temporary legislation, including an eviction ban in Scotland, was successful in protecting a surge in the eviction of tenants during the worst of the crisis.

But it warned that the policymakers did not recognise a "more fundamental problem" with the temporary legislation, which was that it assumed landlords would be able to afford handling the debt.

It found that landlords had quite different levels of reliance on their rental income and differing levels of financial resilience, an "oversight" which itself "put tenancies at risk". Around one-in-four landlords (23%) identified rental income as critical and as their primary source of income.

The researchers found that as arrears levels are likely to rise in the short-term and new cases will continue to emerge, it is "concerning" that some landlords have little capacity to sustain income loss, with some struggling to sustain even moderate and low levels of arrears that would be feasible in ordinary times.

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New rules were introduced on April 7, 2020 to extend the length of the notice period before legal action to obtain an order for eviction can be started which remains in force till March 31, 2022.

That included an increase from 28 days to 6 months’ notice in the case of ‘rent arrears over three consecutive months’, creating a longer period of time between the landlord starting the process and the date that they can begin legal action.

And CaCHE warned that the temporary legislation itself may result in evictions where landlords decide to exit the sector.

But the study felt the Scottish Government's £10m hardship grant fund was not enough, while the administration of the fund had been passed to local authorities who will “use their discretion to determine whether a grant payment is appropriate in individual circumstances”.

It said the differing priorities of local authorities and the complexity of individual cases will make it "challenging".

It suggested that detailed monitoring of the scheme was needed.

CaCHE said it is suspected that some landlords with 12 months or more of arrears will prefer to see these tenancies end, even it means forgoing a lump sum payment.

"Overall, the scheme is unlikely to meet the aspirations of many landlords, particularly as it appears to be under resourced, £10m is equivalent to less than ten percent of the

private sector current arrears estimated by this survey and has to be shared between both private and social sector tenants," the authors said.

It said that to cut arrears and evictions, ministers would have to "work more closely with landlords than it is currently doing".

It warned: "This will be challenging, given the nature of the Scottish private rented sector, the observation that landlord disenfranchisement has led to a siege mentality, the dominance of tenancy advocacy groups in policy discourse, and the fact that many landlords are concerned that the Scottish Government is biased against them.

"The objective here is to find a way to permit the sector to return to the ways of operating before the pandemic, without leaving large numbers of tenants at high risk of eviction, and without leaving large numbers of landlords shouldering substantial burdens from pandemic arrears as well as income lost through voids. Just as was the case with the emergency regulations, tenant welfare and the sheltering of public services remain central concerns."

It also said there was a need to monitor the capacity within the tribunal system and to be ready to increase funding levels in response to a significant increase in processing times for cases.

In August, the Herald revealed of fears of a housing disaster as the number of tenants facing legal action for eviction had doubled since a ban was eased.

The soaring levels of legal proceedings come as the number of properties recovered in eviction proceedings over rent arrears had risen from six in the first three months of the year to 38 between April and June while the effective ending of the eviction ban over Covid in much of Scotland was taking place.

Research from examining tribunal hearing records between March 25, 2020 and May 17, 2021 found that 244 evictions had been granted.

The investigation by Living Rent's national secretary Meg Bishop found that 155 of the tenants had been evicted formally through the tribunal process having accrued more than three months of arrears.

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A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Actions we have taken throughout the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic have supported tenants and prevented evictions. As we recover from the pandemic, we are considering whether some of the emergency support we put in place to prevent evictions should be continued to build a fair, safe and secure recovery.
"We have been clear from the outset that eviction action by a landlord should be an absolute last resort. However, where a tenancy is no longer sustainable, our extended notice periods give people extra time to prepare. This protection is in place until at least March 2022.
“We have also committed to delivering a new deal for tenants, which will include plans for greater restrictions on evictions over winter and additional penalties for illegal evictions.
"As part of our forthcoming Rented Sector Strategy, we will consult on our proposals to enhance tenants’ rights by the end of this year.”