Shelter Scotland and Living Rent seek to raise awareness of renters’ rights

15 March 2019

Rent prices in Glasgow are sky high. Photograph: Calam Pengilly

Shelter Scotland hosts information hour for private renters after Living Rent calls on Scottish Government “to reopen Housing Act and implement our proposals”

A Shelter Scotland information hour took place at the Govanhill Community Hall on Wednesday night, in the first of a series of events aimed at raising public awareness on renters’ rights.

It comes on the back of changes to legislation in 2017 that ended short assured tenancy agreements and introduced new private residential tenancies (PRT).

James Mullaney, the private renter capacity building officer of Shelter Scotland, who spoke at the event said:

“Almost 400,000 households are renting privately and unfortunately the sector is far more diverse than the social rented sector with different landlords, different agents and no clear way to tell who is privately renting and who is not.”

Information given out at the event related mostly to how renters can prevent themselves becoming victims to bad landlords, and what to do if they find themselves renting from one.

Mullaney added: “We want to speak to as many people as possible and unlike the social rented sector there is no current standardised private tenant participation model. In some areas there may be a community group or loose network of groups who support private renters and can raise awareness of issues and changes but this is quite patchwork. We certainly feel that more can be done to ensure that private renters know their rights and feel empowered to enforce them.”

“It used to be the case that if you had some issues with your private rented accommodation you’d have to go down the legal route and it’s now been changed to a tribunal, it’s meant to be a bit more informal, a bit more equal for the parties involved.”

He also addressed the issue of rent increases, before continuing to explain the tribunal system in which renters can contest increases that they deem to be unreasonable – something that the Living Rent campaigners in attendance would have been glad to hear.

The Scottish Tenants’ Union questioned the Scottish Government at the end of February, when they released their own proposals on how to address rising rent costs.

The group said that the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016 was “a missed opportunity to tackle the very serious challenges facing the Scottish PRS (Private Rented Sector).

The 2016 act was designed to tackle disproportionate rent increases across the country by allowing local authorities the power to designate an area as a rent pressure zone (RPZ).

The RPZ were supposed to enable councils to restrict rent increases for the first time since the 1980s, when deregulation of the PRS was introduced. However, according to not a single location has been declared an RPZ since the introduction of the bill.

Living Rent say this is because the current legislation is unworkable. According to councils can apply for an RPZ if the following criteria can be proved:

  • “Rents in the area are rising too much.”
  • “The rent rises are causing problems for the tenants.”
  • “The local council is coming under pressure to provide housing or subsidise the cost of housing as a result.”

According to Living Rent, “The necessary information to prove these points — particularly the first point — simply does not exist. While some statistics around rent costs at certain levels exist, there is no body in Scotland charged with gathering the required data at the scale needed in order to make successful RPZ applications, and so to prove that they are rising ‘too much’ is unreasonable and unrealistic”.

Upon being asked by The Glasgow Sloth what he thought about Living Rent’s proposals, Kevin Stewart, the minister for local government, housing and planning said:

“The Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016 provides a range of measures to help tackle high rents, including limiting rent increases to once in 12 months, with three months’ notice required, enabling tenants to challenge unfair rent increases for adjudication by a rent officer and providing local authorities with new discretionary powers to designate an area as being a RPZ.”

In response to a question about how the legislation does not prevent price hikes between tenancies and so does little to tackle the problem of rising rent he added:

“RPZs can be used by a local authority to tackle rising rents in a hotspot area, for existing tenants with a private residential tenancy, where there are concerns increasing rents in that area are having a detrimental impact on tenants and the housing system.  We have been clear from the outset that the RPZ measures were not intended to tackle initial rents.”

Mullaney said: “Groups like Living Rent show that there is still an appetite for a tenant union… people should always feel empowered to have their say on the things that are important to them and actually drive change and improvement. It may be that as technology evolves, the ways that renters do this may also start to change too and it’s important that Shelter Scotland continues to respond to that.”

Infographic: Calam Pengilly

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