Andy Wightman MSP Back to greens.scot

Evictions will continue in the private rented sector

1 December, 2017 - 00:00

Today, the new Private Residential Tenancy regime comes into force.[1]. This comes at a time when the number of tenants in the private rented sector has trebled since 1999. Yet, despite these new rules coming into force, it is already apparent that for many people in the private rented sector, insecurity will continue.

One of the key new provisions of the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016 is to remove the no-fault grounds for repossession. Whereas before, a tenant could be evicted at the end of a six-month tenancy without the landlord having to give any reason, the new law means that tenants under the new tenancy can only be evicted under one of eighteen statutory grounds contained in Schedule 3 of the Act [2]

Consider this.

A year ago I was advising constituents who live in Lorne Street. They had been served with notices to quit because the landlord (the Agnes Hunter Trust) decided to sell their homes. Over 200 people faced being made homeless. A campaign ensued and they properties have now been taken over by a housing association. One might think that this kind of large scale eviction will not be able to happen in future. But it can. Under the first ground in Schedule 3, tenants can continue to be evicted because the landlord intends to sell the property.

Or consider this.

In September, the Local Government and Communities Committee heard from a range of people who had experienced homelessness including young care-experienced people. It was an extremely moving and informative session and I urge anyone with an interest to view/read the testimony [3].

One of the witnesses was Thomas Lyon whose opening remarks revealed the tragic series of events that so easily led to him becoming homeless:

The reason that I became homeless was that I had a private let at the time and the council was paying for it, but my landlord went bankrupt. This was nearly 10 years ago, and I did not know anything about being homeless… I went to the buroo, and the next minute I was sleeping under a bridge with a jacket. I did not know about the street team, where you can go to get a sleeping bag. I did not know anything about Shelter or my rights. I was in every hostel in Glasgow, four or five times each.”

One might think that just modern tenancy legislation would protect a tenant in the event that the landlord went bankrupt. But it won’t. Under the second ground in Schedule 3, tenants can continue to be evicted because the property has been taken over by a creditor who wishes to sell with vacant possession.

Or consider this.

The number of short-term lets in Edinburgh is growing rapidly. Landlords can earn in a week what they can earn in a month with a residential tenancy. As more and more dwellings are converted to short-term lets, one might think that new legislation would protect a tenant against eviction where such a conversion was planned by a landlord. But it won’t. Under the sixth ground in Schedule 3, tenants can continue to be evicted where the landlord wishes to use the property for a purpose other than providing someone with a home.

Under the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, housing is a human right [4]. It is an open question whether this right is being effectively upheld when private sector landlords and creditors are able to evict tenants, like Thomas, with all the consequential misery and distress just because they wish to sell their property. In countries such as Denmark, Germany or the Netherlands, for example, if a landlord sells a tenanted property then the tenant stay put (as one would in Scotland if one were a crofting or agricultural tenant) [5].

The housing crisis is intensifying.

Already in Edinburgh, we know that young families are being pushed into the hands of homelessness services simply because they can’t afford rising rents and 59% of those under 35 years old are now living in the private rented sector (see graph above). [6]

Latest research indicates that 37% of households in the poorest fifth of the population in Scotland are spending more than a third of their income on housing costs (graph at top of blog). [6]

Far from fixing the situation, the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016 is merely the latest stopgap in a dysfunctional housing market that fails to provide an affordable and warm home to all who need one.

 

[1] https://beta.gov.scot/policies/private-renting/private-tenancy-reform/

[2] http://www.legislation.gov.uk/asp/2016/19/schedule/3/enacted

[3] http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=11097&i=1...

[4] http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/

[5] http://www.tenlaw.uni-bremen.de/My%20Rights%20as%20Tenant%20in%20Europe.pdf

[6] Rettie’s Private rental Sector Market Briefing Winter 2017

[7] https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/poverty-scotland-2017