Time to rebalance landlords’ and tenant’s rights

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The Scottish Government will introduce a new Bill to the Scottish Parliament later this year which will set out the shape of a new tenancy for Scotland’s private rented sector.

Essentially, this move will rebalance the relationship between tenant and landlord by improving the security of tenure for private renters while safeguarding the rights of lenders, investors and landlords.

Shelter Scotland has been calling for this change through our ‘Make Renting Right’ campaign; it is our view this move will fundamentally improve how the 312,000 private renter households and around 150,000 private landlords view the private rented sector.

There is broad public, housing sector and political support for changes but not everyone agrees on the detail – especially on changing the law regarding a landlord’s ability to end a tenancy without reason.

So, is change essential? In a word, yes! The current tenancy was introduced in the 1980s – when private renting was less common, and is complicated and unwieldy. The Bill seeks to correct an anomaly which over the last 30 years has seen the short-assured tenancy become – almost - the default form of private tenancy. However, this is not what policy-makers intended it to be. It was the little-used ‘assured tenancy’ – with indefinite security of tenure and greater protection against rent rises – that was expected to play a bigger role in private renting.

Short-term leases with little security of tenure are better-suited to the ‘traditional’ private renter in Scotland - students, young professionals and temporary workers – whose circumstances better fit short-term tenancies.

But the demographics, dynamics and needs of the sector have changed significantly with an unprecedented growth in the number of private renter households in Scotland – more than doubling in ten years to 312,000. Along with the growth of ‘Generation Rent’ and the number of families with children needing to rent privately – more than 80,000 – it means the time has come to reassess how the private rented sector serves those people who want a stable, secure place they can call home. This Bill is timely acknowledgement that the current system is not fit for purpose.

Under the current short-assured tenancy, short-term leases can be drawn up lasting only six months and provide as little as one or two months’ security of tenure once a lease reaches the end of its fixed term.

Central to the lack of security of tenure is the ‘no fault ground for possession’ allowing landlords to bring a tenancy to an end without a reason. Currently, a tenant can live in their home for up to ten years and the landlord only needs to provide two months’ notice and the tenant must leave. This can be a huge shock to those with roots in their communities, children in local schools and those near to local support networks. The sense of insecurity in private renting is compounded by the fact that many tenants are afraid to insist upon essential repairs being done for fear that, if they complain, they will be asked to leave their home.

Crucially, the Scottish Government’s proposed reform will increase security of tenure by ensuring that private landlords have a genuine reason for needing the property back before ending the tenancy - for example, they need to live in the property, sell it or the tenant has broken the tenancy agreement.

This is an essential and common-sense rebalancing of the rights of landlords and tenants. Instead of being able to end a tenancy agreement ‘on a whim’, landlords will have a set procedure to follow and tenants will be empowered as consumers to ensure they are getting a fair deal from private renting. The knowledge that their landlord cannot just simply end a tenancy without reason will put families – especially those with children - on a stronger footing, safe in the knowledge that they won’t be asked to leave at short notice.

Adam Lang is Head of Communications and Policy at Shelter Scotland.