Fiona King: Take stand against bad landlords

Every year Shelter Scotland helps hundreds of people who are, or have been, illegally evicted from their homes.

Homelessness can be a consequence of eviction. Picture: Tina Norris

That means individuals and families being turfed out with little or no notice, which for many will mean an uncertain future or even homelessness.

While kicking someone out of their home without the proper and legal notices is illegal and has been since the Housing (Scotland) Act 1988, many people are unaware that it is a criminal offence.

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That is why Shelter Scotland, along with partners Police Scotland and Crimestoppers has launched a campaign to make sure tenants and landlords know their rights and responsibilities.

We’re joining forces to make sure landlords and tenants know that illegal eviction is not a civil matter but a criminal offence which should be dealt with by the police.

The crime is punishable with a heavy fine or even a prison sentence.

While the majority of the estimated 100,000 landlords across Scotland act responsibly, some landlords either unintentionally or knowingly break the law by kicking their tenants out without going through the correct process.

This can happen in a number of ways – from changing the locks when the tenant is out, through to threatening violence or intimidation.

Harassment of tenants to force them to leave is also a criminal offence, as is cutting off essential services such as gas, electricity and water, and yet we know these situations continue to happen across Scotland putting people at risk.

Illegal behaviour by the minority of landlords tarnishes what is a growing and vibrant sector.

This campaign is supported by the Scottish Association of Landlords which is concerned that poor and dangerous practices could “bring down the reputation of the whole industry”.

And it is important that we get it right.

We know that every year more and more people are calling the private rented sector home.

More than 330,000 households across Scotland now rent privately and the number of families with children has doubled in the past ten years.

That is why we want to see a better managed, more secure and stable private rented sector that works for both tenants and landlords.

As part of this campaign we will be travelling across Scotland to get the message out.

We know that in Edinburgh, 27 per cent of all households are renting privately compared to a national figure of 13 per cent, so we must do more to improve the sector and make sure all parties have the information they need.

Critical to resolving these sorts of disputes is getting advice early and if an illegal eviction happens, to contact the police immediately.

At Shelter Scotland we have specialist advisers who deal with problems in private rented housing and I would urge anyone facing problems to call our free, national helpline – 0808 800 4444.

The fact is we don’t know exactly how many illegal evictions from private rented housing go on each year across Scotland, as the problem is largely under-reported.

It is vital that anyone who is facing illegal eviction knows that the police and a range of other agencies, including Shelter Scotland, are on their side.

• Fiona King is campaigns and public affairs manager at Shelter Scotland