John Blackwood: Private landlords have vital role in future housing provision

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The issue of Scotland’s current and future housing supply, as well as its links with other major societal issues such as health, social care and climate change, is quite rightly at the forefront of public discourse.

That is why the Scottish Government’s recent discussion paper, Housing Beyond 2021, is vital. By beginning early and demonstrating how a number of different policy threads come together in housing, organisations such as ours have rightly been challenged to think more about the future and, in our case, the role of the Private Rented Sector (PRS) in contributing to the goal of “…everyone in Scotland to have a home that is warm, affordable and accessible.”

John Blackwood, Chief Executive of Scottish Association of Landlords

John Blackwood, Chief Executive of Scottish Association of Landlords

In particular, there are a few themes in the paper which have immediately jumped out at us as key for the role the PRS can and should play in how our homes and communities should look and feel in 2040.

First, the importance of energy efficiency and climate change, linked to the need for high quality and standards. The PRS is often the guinea pig for the implementation of energy efficiency measures in the housing sector, as well as new safety standards.

For example, homes in the private rented sector were amongst the first to be required to have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) when letting a property to a tenant. 
This allowed a tenant to know how energy efficient the property was before renting, allowing informed choices.

Encouraging this kind of behaviour is essential in ensuring innovations are developed and included in future housing stock.

Equally, standards on fire safety, through increased requirements for smoke alarms and heat detectors, were first introduced in the PRS, putting these homes ahead of properties for social rent.

Both measures increased the 
quality of existing stock and provided a blueprint for future construction beyond 2021. Again, any vision for 
the future of housing in Scotland must put safety for all, whether renting or as an owner-occupier, at its heart.

The second theme we have been discussing within SAL is the role of private landlords in creating sustainable communities and how that might impact on affordability and supply in response to an ageing population.

The first thing to be said on this is that, with an ageing population, it is likely private landlords themselves will have to adapt to cater to an older demographic, as opposed to the younger generation we largely cater for at the moment. This might include more specialised private accommodation for rent or different types of investment in some properties.

This is nothing to be afraid of. In fact, it presents opportunities to create a more fluid housing stock, beyond the current split that young people rent, older people own their own house and, at some point, people move to social housing or care. This is the ideal time to challenge this stereotype and private landlords will be key in doing so.

What we would like to see in the future is increased tenure options which allow individuals and families to more easily move between renting, be that social or privately, and ownership depending on what is right for these people at different stages of their lives. These options should be available within the same area or community or even the same development, so that vital social connections are not in constant flux.

This fluidity must extend to ensuring that private landlords can continue to provide flexible, high quality housing that will be needed to fulfil this vision.

This radical change would help break down the extreme positions which often portray home ownership as “good” and renting as “bad”, or at least a sign of some kind of failure. Renting at a young age or an older age, with the flexibility and security that brings is often the best thing. Equally, periods of family growth and job security might make ownership the more attractive option.

The discussion around Housing Beyond 2021 is clearly only just beginning but, whatever happens, the option to rent privately will be crucial to house Scotland’s people.

John Blackwood, Chief Executive of Scottish Association of Landlords