MSPs vote in favour of Private Tenancies Bill

Margaret Burgess

Margaret Burgess

MSPs yesterday agreed the general principles of the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Bill during a Stage 1 debate in the Scottish Parliament.

Opening the debate, housing minister Margaret Burgess said the bill’s main purpose is to create a private residential tenancy with improved stability and rent predictability, with proper safeguards for landlords and investors.

The housing minister said the Scottish Government has carefully developed a proposal for an open ended tenancy that will apply to all tenants in the sector.

She added that landlords will still be able to advertise their property well in advance if a tenant has given notice.

Ms Burgess said there is no doubt that an increase of housing supply is needed and the government is committed to that, but that the Private Housing Bill is about security for people in the private sector and about rebalancing the relationship between tenants and landlords.

The minister added that she cannot say when this legislation will begin if passed.

The Scottish Parliament’s infrastructure and capital investment committee, which last suggested a number of recommendations to improve the bill, said yesterday that it backs its general principles.

Committee convener Jim Eadie said the removal of the no fault ground, means landlords will have to provide one of the 16 reasons in the bill for if they wish to end a tenancy.

The SNP MSP said the first tier tribunal will ensure tenants have a tenancy agreement and will hear complaints about unfair evictions.

He added that the committee had asked about what support and legal advice was available to tenants coming to the tribunal.

The bill was also backed by Labour MSP Jayne Baxter who said it is important that renters get a fair deal as the private rented sector is often the only option for homeless people and now accounts for up to 14 per cent of households.

Labour MSP David Stewart said although the biggest issue with rent is the lack of social housing available, the introduction of rent controlled zones would restrict rent levels to a consumer price index rate.

Mr Stewart added that there must be a system for appeal otherwise it could result in a “zero-hours tenancy”.

Labour MSP Ken Macintosh praised the efforts of Shelter Scotland and Crisis in ensuring this bill came about and said he is pleased the minister has accepted the end of the no fault eviction and has brought in rent controls.

Scottish Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone, who did not back the bill, said rent is considered to be rising in Scotland when in reality it is actually stable.

For that reason it is of concern that rents which have not been rising because they have a sitting tenant may now rise annually due to this bill, he added.

The MSP said a good relationship between the landlord and tenant must be encouraged but the legislation is not in a form he can accept at this stage.

Mr Johnstone said that although the conservatives voted against the general principles of the bill at this stage it may still back it in the future. The government must work for its support at stage three, he added.

Lib Dem MSP Jim Hume warned that the introduction of rent controls could actually see an increase in rent costs.

The south Scotland MSP said he supports Shelter’s view that tenants should be given a reasonable amount of time to pay rent arrears but that ultimately there needs to be a sufficient number of properties available which is not currently the case.

Mr Hume added that he looks forward to the government’s promise to build more affordable homes.

Green MSP Patrick Harvie welcomed that the government has moved its position on rent controls although some measures in the bill allow a former tenant to complain they have been the subject to a misleading eviction.

Following the debate, John Blackwood, chief executive of the Scottish Association of Landlords said: “Like all political parties, housing charities and tenants groups, landlords and letting agents believe there is a need for a modern tenancy regime in Scotland which is easily understood by all and reflects the changing needs of society and is able to provide both the flexibility and high standards of service which people rightly expect.

“Whilst our members have some concerns over some aspects of the detail of the proposed legislation, particularly around their right to end a tenancy, we are fully supportive of the principle and need for this legislation as well as the vast majority of the measures being suggested.”