A regular question at our landlord training sessions relates to the idea of early intervention when a tenant accrues rent arrears in Scotland. Landlords should always contact the tenant in these situations to obtain an explanation for the non-payment of the rent. Early contact can often prevent the situation from escalating outwith the tenant's control.
Many landlords worry they will be accused of harassment if they make attempts to contact the tenant. In one recent example, after the tenant had given notice to quit, the landlord had simply sent a text to the tenant asking when she intended to move out which prompted an accusatory reply and threats of police involvement.
But what does the law say?
- The Rent (Scotland) Act 1984 makes it a criminal offence for a landlord to do anything that could interfere with the peace and comfort of the tenant.
- Further, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 entitles individuals who feel they are being harassed to raise civil court proceedings against the perpetrator of the harassment. The Act defines harassment as "conduct which causes a person alarm or distress". However, it is a defence if the course of conduct that led to the allegations of harassment was, in the particular circumstances, reasonable.
A landlord in Cupar was recently convicted of unlawful harassment after he had removed doors and windows from the property in an attempt to persuade the tenant to leave. This case is a fairly extreme example of the type of conduct that will be regarded as harassment. Normal correspondence with a tenant relating to rent arrears should not be treated in this manner by the courts.
So long as a landlord is acting reasonably in his dealings with the tenant, there is absolutely nothing to stop them contacting the tenant when rent arrears accrue.
- The landlord is fully entitled to ask a tenant to explain why rent has not been paid.
- There is no need to wait until more than one payment has been missed.
- Such contact could take the form of a letter, email or a text.
- It may benefit the landlord later in the process if they are seen initially to be offering advice and assistance where possible. To this end, the landlord may wish to refer the tenant to agencies which could assist, i.e. the Citizens Advice Bureau.
If you'd like further advice in relation to tenant arrears, contact our experienced team.