Rents charged by private landlords could be capped

Dmytro Morykit and Hazel Cameron's move to Perthshire was prompted by disputes with Edinburgh letting agencies. Picture: Neil Hanna
Dmytro Morykit and Hazel Cameron's move to Perthshire was prompted by disputes with Edinburgh letting agencies. Picture: Neil Hanna
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A CONSULTATION on tenancy reform has been launched by the Scottish Government in the first major overhaul of legislation in the private rented sector for 25 years.

The paper, New Tenancy for the Private Sector, is part of the Government’s commitment to reform the sector by “enabling more effective regulation, applying tougher enforcement and attracting new investment”.

Launched by housing minister Margaret Burgess, it aims to give tenants greater security. Under the proposals, any notice to quit will be linked to how long the tenant has lived in the property and there is also the possibility of rent controls.These two proposals have been welcomed by tenants’ groups and housing charities.

Shelter Scotland policy and research manager Rosemary Brotchie said: “This consultation will benefit everyone in the industry, tenants and landlords alike. Too often we focus on rogue landlords but the majority act within the law and many welcome simpler and more modern terms of regulation.”

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The Edinburgh Private Tenants Action Group (Eptag) welcomed the possible scrapping of “no-fault” repossession. Under this clause, landlords can currently reclaim their property simply because a fixed rental term has ended.

Eptag secretary Jon Black said: “This has been a long time in coming. We are glad that the no-fault ground for repossession is being looked at. In a lot of cases, tenants can struggle to pay their rent and making them homeless doesn’t help. This review should have a massive impact on what is in place now.”

The consultation also proposes notices to quit be lengthened. At present, landlords and tenants must give notice to quit of between 28 and 40 days.

Under new proposals, landlords would have to give tenants four weeks’ notice for those who had been in the property six months or less; eight weeks’ for tenants of between six months and two years; 12 weeks’ for tenants of between two and five years; and 16 weeks’ notice for tenants of over five years.

However, a tenant who has missed three months’ rent, is anti-social or has breached their tenancy agreement would be given 28 days’ notice to quit regardless of length of tenure.

The Scottish Association of Landlords has welcomed the debate but has “serious objections” to proposals to end a landlord’s right to terminate a tenancy at the end of a lease.

Chief executive John Blackwood also raised concerns about the effect of reform on the Edinburgh market, which relies on student stock being available to festival-goers each summer.

He said: “Such proposals will have a negative effect on private landlords renting to students, who need to terminate tenancies at the end of the academic year. This, combined with a threat of rent controls, will deter landlords from investing in the sector and drive many to selling up and exiting the market.

“We are astonished that as we struggle to find much needed housing for people in Scotland, the Scottish Government seems even more determined to reduce the supply of housing by proposing legislation that will only seek to encourage good landlords to invest outwith Scotland or sell up altogether.”

The consultation will run until 28 December and can be viewed at www.scotland.gov.uk.

CASE STUDY

‘We had to go to court. It was a terrible experience’

Dmytro Morykit, 57, and Hazel Cameron, 51, had rented in Edinburgh for many years but, after a series of bitter disputes with landlords, decided to move to the tranquil surroundings of Comrie in Perthshire.

The couple’s problems began in 2011 when their letting agency informed pianist and composer Mr Morykit, his wife and his elderly parents that they had just two months to leave their home of nine years in the city’s Randolph Crescent.

Mr Morykit’s 81-year old mother was at the time suffering the early stages of dementia. He said: “It became such a terrible stress trying to hide it from [my parents] when every day the letting agents were ringing us and demanding that we get out.

“There are not enough expletives in the English language to describe what these agents are like. They harassed us, it’s not easy to find suitable accommodation for four adults at the drop of a hat – two of whom are very elderly.

“We eventually moved into another flat with a different letting agency. We requested a long-term lease and we were told no problem. However, within two years we were again being told to get out. The neighbours then informed us that the landlord had asked the letting agent for short lease tenants only as he always intended to sell. The agency never made any mention of this detail to us.

“They then tried to keep the £4,000 we had given them – deposit, three months’ rent and ‘illegal’ administrative fees – we had to go to court and were awarded £400. It was a terrible experience.”

Mrs Morykit, a poet, said of the couple’s decision to move to Perthshire: “For those not involved in the private rented sector, most would be horrified by the amount of criminal and amoral behaviour by agents and landlords who abuse the need for a home.

“I’ve rented privately for over 30 years and always had a good relationship with my landlords so it came as a surprise to discover the scale of this problem in Edinburgh. Even agents who display a respectable veneer regularly break the law and treat tenants with contempt.

“Here in Perthshire our landlord is a lot more agreeable. I’m glad the government is looking at the issue of tenancy reform because tenants in the rented sector have very little rights and are being taken advantage of by landlords.”