Black’s Blog: Councillor Black reports on Making Renting Right

Jimmy Black
Jimmy Black

You are looking for your first rented flat, and a landlord says “give me £200 and I’ll keep this flat for you. But back out and the money’s mine”. Would you know this was an illegal premium? If the landlord then said: “Leave the place in good order and I’ll give you back a month’s rent”, would you know this was an illegal deposit?

To most folks entering the private rented market these terms of business would seem reasonable enough. So dodgy landlords get away with a lot.

There is hope. Shelter Scotland’s Make Renting Right conference brought the good private landlords together with their counterparts in housing associations and advice agencies, and there was some good news. 150,000 private rented tenancies are in bona fide tenancy deposit schemes, and that represents real progress. Depressingly, 180,000 tenancies are not participating, which makes you wonder.

Andrew Cowan of TC Young expressed some anguish at new legislation coming from the Scottish Government, which will include a single tenancy agreement for the private sector, and changes to the grounds for repossession. He claimed that we cannot enforce current legislation such as HMO licensing and landlord registration; why would we take on more?

This made me bristle. For example, just this week I had some very effective help from Glasgow’s HMO team. And as a member of the Dundee Licensing Committee, I know that we deal robustly with errant landlords. But comments round the hall gave the impression that enforcement varies in quality around the country, and that may be a matter of resources, different interpretations, local Sheriffs who take strange decisions, or flaws in the laws. Whatever it is, it’s time to speak up, now. Housing minister Margaret Burgess could sort it, I think, if people give her the information she needs.

Two of the landlord reps present made a very valid point which proves how hard it is to get legislation right. They believe the new tenancy agreement will make it impossible to give students what they often want, which is a ten month tenancy corresponding to the academic year. That leaves the summer for maintenance, short term lets or, in Edinburgh, filling up your flat with thespians. The landlords may have a point, but how do you change things without creating a huge loophole?

I also have some concerns, mainly about the new grounds for repossession. You can get your flat back for refurbishment, or a change of business use, or to sell. Liz Ely from Living Rent was concerned these could easily be abused. As ever, the devil will be in the detail, and I believe the government will welcome the informed scrutiny of our hard bitten housing professionals as the bill makes its way through Parliament.

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