One year after private renters were given new rights, James Mullaney looks at what has improved and what still needs to be done.
The new housing legislation was passed following extensive campaigning from Shelter Scotland. Over the years countless people have come to us for help dealing with landlords and letting agents who refused to fix boilers and leaks, who increased rents frequently, and who ended tenancies with very little notice.
The new tenancy means:
More security (it’s an open-ended tenancy so your landlord can’t just ask you to leave because you’ve been in the property for a set length of time)
Protection from frequent rent increases (and three months’ notice of it happening)
Longer notice periods (unless it’s because you’ve done something wrong)
Rent and repair issues can now be heard and resolved by the First-tier Tribunal
Local authorities can apply to Scottish Ministers to cap the levels of rent increases in areas where rents are rising too much
A year after the creation of the new tenancy we asked private renters for their thoughts to see what difference it has made so far.
“A sense of security”
One tenant told Shelter Scotland that the new rules were giving people back a sense of security. The woman, who will soon become a landlord herself, said: “At one point it was accepted that you could be born and die in the same home. But for years the lack of secure housing has meant people have been constantly on the move, uprooted from schools, family, support networks”.
“I think the PRT legislation is exceedingly good. I know that when I become a landlord it may mean that it could be a slightly more difficult situation if I had a tenant who wasn’t looking after the property, but on balance I think it is worth it to know that others will be able to bring up their families in a safe, secure environment.”
In contrast, one renter told Shelter Scotland about their experiences before the new rules came in. They went without heating or hot water for two weeks because the letting agency didn’t treat the broken boiler as an urgent repair. Under the new tenancy the tenant could demand the letting agent take action without fear that they would be evicted.
Another tenant had put up with a bad neighbour rather than move as she knew her existing landlord wouldn’t end her tenancy unexpectedly but had heard of many others being told to move out after their six-month contract ended. The tenant felt that the removal of fixed terms tenancies was a positive step and may make it easier for tenants in a similar situation to move on.
Other renters highlighted the benefits of the default 28-day notice period for tenants especially those who need a “degree of flexibility”. It was also suggested that the ability to give notice in writing at any stage in the tenancy may also act as a deterrent to those bad landlords who engage in poor practice.
A long way to go
A year on and there is no doubt the legislation has begun to shift the power balance between tenants and landlords towards a more equal footing. But there is still a long way to go, not least because far too many private tenants aren’t aware of their new rights.
The tenant who had the faulty boiler? She said it wasn’t just the fear of eviction that stopped her demanding an urgent repair, it was that the agent didn’t respond to her calls. Her conversations with staff were “incredibly frustrating” as she realised they didn’t care about her situation.
As another client, whose washing machine flooded the kitchen the day after she moved in, put it: “It feels too challenging asking the agency to do things. It took a number of phone calls to them and then Shelter Scotland to seek advice. It proved incredibly stressful and affected my mental health.”
Thanks to the new legislation, both clients could now report their landlords or letting agents to the First Tier Tribunal. Unfortunately, it was only through talking to Shelter Scotland that either woman discovered the tribunal existed.
When tenants have gone to the tribunal, there have been some excellent rulings that remind landlords that bad behaviour will not be tolerated.
Whilst the legislation is in place, and the tribunal is there to enforce it, it’s vital tenants know about it. We need people to feel empowered to challenge bad landlords and letting agents. Right now these landlord rely on tenants not being aware of their rights or confident enough to try to enforce them.
James Mullaney is project officer on Shelter Scotland’s Private Renters’ Voice Project
This article originally appeared on the Shelter Scotland website