What can you do in a decade? Ask Shelter Scotland. For 10 years, they have campaigned to reform the private rented sector and last week, their hard work truly paid off. From 2017, tenants in the private rented sector will enjoy a secure home of their own. James Battye from Shelter Scotland explains just what happened – its inspiring stuff!
James Battye, Policy Officer, Shelter Scotland
Last week the Scottish Parliament passed landmark legislation to boost the legal rights that private tenants have to stay in their homes.
Similar to the Assured Shorthold Tenancy in England, the current Short Assured Tenancy gives private tenants as little as two months’ certainty that they can stay in their homes, with landlords having the power to bring tenancies to an end for no reason. The new Act means that from late 2017 this will all change.
Private renters in Scotland will effectively be given indefinite certainty that they can stay in their homes, with landlords having the right to bring an agreement to an end only in specified circumstances. There will also be greater predictability in respect of rent increases, with only one rent increase permitted per year which can be referred to an independent decision maker.
This is a major win for private renters, and for Shelter Scotland, who have been campaigning for years to improve renting. How did we get here?
Over the past ten years we’ve seen the private rented sector more than double in size: now housing around 14% of all households in Scotland, including 85,000 with children. The current default short-term tenancy simply does not provide these households with the certainty and stability that they can stay in their homes for as long as they need. No certainty that children growing up in private renter households will remain in the same area, go the same schools, be registered with the same GP and live beside their family and friends.
Not only this, but the current tenancy puts private tenants on a weak footing in terms of enforcing their basic legal rights. Nearly half of all calls to our free housing advice helpline relate to private rented sector issues. Many of these private renters are at the sharp end of the rented sector – with their insecure tenancy agreements leaving them with little consumer power to ask that their landlord’s comply with even the most basic standards of repair.
This is why we’ve been campaigning hard for Scotland’s politicians to support our call to Make Renting Right by reforming the private tenancy, and making security of tenure a central pillar of that reform.
It has been incredible to see the wide political consensus on this issue over past few years. From the formation of the Scottish government’s strategy for the private rented sector and the review of the tenancy regime, right through to the various consultations on the tenancy and the passing of this legislation in the Scottish parliament. We hope this consensus will be carried forward into the next parliament, and beyond.
Securing such a radical shake-up has taken time. At Shelter Scotland we’ve been campaigning for this change through various guises for well over ten years. It has involved tireless engagement with MSPs, the Scottish government and private landlords, to both secure consensus that the current tenancy agreement was out of date, and underline the lack of security and stability it offers. Happily, this argument has been accepted by government – and private renters will soon be afforded close to indefinite security of tenure.
In a way the passing of this legislation is just the first step of a longer journey; it is our ambition that this is part of a wider culture change in the way we look at private renting. It should no longer be viewed as the poor relation of social housing, or homeownership, but a safe and secure housing option in which everyone is able to flourish and lead healthy and fulfilling lives.
With the passing of this legislation we are one step closer to that vision.