Homes to rent in Elgin are being inundated with dozens of viewing requests within hours of going on the market amid a critical shortage in the region.
The Press and Journal has been told some private landlords have been offered payments months in advance just to reserve properties.
Letting agents say that while three years ago they could have had 15 or 20 properties available at any one time, now they could have as few as one or two.
It means every time a home goes on the market to rent in Elgin there is a rush from prospective tenants to arrange viewings.
Demand for council homes is also phenomenally high with 300 people remaining on the waiting list despite 465 new tenancies being created last year.
And there are concerns the shortage of available properties could affect recruitment drives for teachers, NHS workers and other critical staff.
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Why are there so few homes to rent in Elgin?
Letting agents in Moray say the downturn in available properties has been ongoing for about three years.
Tighter controls on landlords being able to evict problem tenants, increase rents and the rising cost of buy-to-let mortgages have been blamed as among the reasons.
Sales are also currently strong in Moray at the moment with property agents reporting buyers moving from the cities to rural communities following the rise of home working.
The combination of factors is reportedly encouraging property owners to sell up when tenants move out instead of advertising another lease.
Charlie Beck is rentals manager at Cluny Estate Agents, which has offices in Elgin and Forres.
He said: “A lot of landlords are finding the stipulations very hard and at the same time the sales market has been fantastic the last couple of years, so they want to take advantage of that instead.
‘As soon as they’re listed, they’re gone’
“We’ve still got over 600 rentals, which is the most in the area. Pre-pandemic though we would be advertising anywhere from 15 to 20 at any one time, now it’s literally just two or three, often it’s just one.
“As soon as they’re listed, they’re gone. It’s horrific. I really do sympathise with people looking at the moment.”
A private landlord told the Press and Journal one tenant moving to Elgin from England paid up four months in advance just to secure a flat.
He said: “I understand all rentals are in huge demand. All mine are occupied, the last empty one I had the guy paid four months rent before he moved in just so I would keep it for him.
“It’s getting more difficult though. I rent out one for £600 and the mortgage is £584 per month now. With insurance I’m losing money on it, but they’re good tenants so I’m happy keeping them.”
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‘Not worth it for landlords now’
Restrictions brought in on landlords include a 3% cap on rent increases, introduced by the Scottish Government to lessen the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on tenants.
It has instead pushed the financial burden onto property owners with mortgage rates rising by more than 5%.
Andy Campbell, director of Elgin-based Belvoir!, said: “It’s just not worth it for a lot of landlords now. You’ve got increasing mortgages, insurance, restrictions on what you can do if you do have a problem tenant – it’s a losing battle.
“A lot of this was introduced to fix problems in the Central Belt, and there wasn’t the consideration to what it would do to rural areas.
“We’ll get about 20 inquiries per property but we’ll only arrange five viewings, because we know we’ll get someone.
“Despite the demand, we haven’t ended up with the situation of asking for crazy money like Edinburgh or Glasgow. A two-bedroom house would be about £575 to £595 per month.
“It’s a shame for people wanting to come to work here in the hospital or schools. You’ve really got to live here now to be quick off the mark.”
Are there too many holiday homes in Moray?
Legislation has come into force from the Scottish Government to regulate short-term lets across the country.
The scheme covers AirBNB-style lets including “home sharing”, letting out your main home while you’re away and renting out second properties. However, it excludes hotels, B&Bs and tents.
Figures published by the Scottish Government show that at the end of March this year there had been 33 properties licensed in Moray, at an average of 7.1 per 10,000 homes in the region.
That figure is broadly in line with the Scottish average of 7.7 licenses per 10,000 homes.
Meanwhile, in the Highlands, 847 licenses have been approved at an average of 69.3 per 10,000 homes.