Lying landlords ‘should be jailed’

Margaret Burgess and Robert Aldridge differ over tenants' rights. Picture: Jane Barlow

Margaret Burgess and Robert Aldridge differ over tenants' rights. Picture: Jane Barlow

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ROGUE landlords who lie to get tenants wrongfully evicted from their homes should face jail, MSPs will be told this week.

Campaigners say it is too easy for landlords to falsely claim they want to sell a property or live in it to secure their tenants’ removal under new legislation.

Holyrood’s infrastructure committee will be told next week that criminal sanctions should be imposed on landlords making “false representations” with the “possibility of a jail sentence or substantial fines”, in a move to protect vulnerable tenants.

About 650,000 Scots, including thousands of families, live in homes rented from private landlords and the numbers have trebled from about 5 per cent of all homes in 1999 to 14 per cent last year.

It has prompted the Scottish Government to bring forward new legislation to provide tenants with greater protection from soaring rent costs, repair issues, and unfair eviction demands on the “whim” of landlords.

But Robert Aldridge, chief executive of Homeless Action Scotland, will tell MSPs that the grounds for eviction set out in the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Bill do not provide “reasonable protection” for tenants.

“The penalties for wrongful termination are far too weak,” he says in a submission to MSPs.

“A penalty of only three months’ rent is not a real deterrent for those who deliberately seek to misuse the system. In our view deliberately using false information to achieve an eviction should be regarded as an illegal eviction and subject to the criminal law, with the possibility of both a jail sentence and substantial fines.”

Aldridge says there must be a “clear strong deterrent for those rogue landlords who seek to misuse the grounds.”

The changes in the legislation means landlords will no longer have the ability to regain possession of their property simply because the tenancy has come to its end date, which is widely known as the “no-fault” ground. Instead, a landlord will now be required to use one of the proposed new modernised grounds for eviction. This includes landlords claiming that they want to put a property up for sale, refurbish it, claiming the landlord’s family, or a person employed by the landlord intends to live there – or that it is to be used for one or more of these purposes.

Landlords fear that the removal of their right to end a tenancy will “harm confidence” among those looking to invest in the property sector. They are warning that it will also make it harder for some groups like young families to find suitable rented accommodation.

“If this proposal is introduced we believe the outcome will not be the desired improvements in security of tenure or affordability for tenants,” the Scottish Association of Landlords says in a submission to MSPs.

“We believe that the main consequences of these proposals will be to drive knowledgeable and skilled landlords out of the Scottish private rented sector, encourage landlords to be more selective in the tenants they choose, discourage future investment and ultimately lead to a shortage of properties in the sector.”

Housing minister Margaret Burgess insists that the changes will give tenants “greater security and stability” in their homes. There are also moves to control soaring rent levels with increases restricted to just once a year. Rent caps could be introduced in “pressure zones” such as Aberdeen and Edinburgh, but there are also warnings that these measures do not go far enough to address the problems.

The National Union of Students says that rents in the Granite City have risen by 65.8 per cent in the past four years. They argue that any increases beyond the average rise in wages in the city should not be allowed.

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