Black’s Blog: Drilling down into the Tenant Protection Act
Jimmy Black and Kieran Findlay spent 40 minutes online with Patrick Harvie, minister for zero carbon buildings, active travel and tenants’ rights. Jimmy picks out some of the main points, mostly concerning the Scottish Government’s emergency legislation designed to give tenants relief from the cost of living crisis. Hear the whole interview in the latest episode of the Scottish Housing News Podcast…
What we call the Scottish Government’s emergency actions on the cost of living probably doesn’t matter much. It suits everyone to use the terms rent freeze and evictions bans, so let’s not quibble.
The inconvenient facts are that evictions are still possible and rents can still go up. It’s just that the rules have changed to make these things considerably more difficult. Finding a useful way to explain this to the public is probably impossible, so maybe the terms “freeze” and “ban” will have to do.
What we need now is to find out what it all means and where it’s all going, so tenants’ rights minister Patrick Harvie was the ideal person to be a guest on the Scottish Housing News podcast which I co-host with Kieran Findlay, Editor of the Scottish Housing News. Mr Harvie was generous with his time and we covered a lot of ground. It’s best to listen to the podcast to get a full understanding. What I’ve written here is skeletal in comparison to 40 minutes with the Minister.
Kieran asked why there was so little consultation before the First Minister’s announcement of a rent freeze in the Programme for Government. The answer was that some landlords might have rushed to put their rents up before the freeze was imposed.
We said social landlords’ response to the emergency measures was “mixed”. Mr Harvie thought that was too diplomatic, and accepted there had been a strong reaction from the sector to the proposals. He was keen, though, to stress the constructive work happening in a “task and finish” group.
I wanted to know if capping the rent on social landlords meant that we are adopting the English system, where the government caps social rents every year. The Minister said no, if that had been the intention he would have included it in consultation on the Housing Bill. When I asked him if he would lift the rent cap on social landlords in January, he said he was confident he would reach an agreement with the sector.
I flagged up the depth of opposition from organisations representing private landlords, and the Minister acknowledged this. He talked about the safeguards which have been built into the emergency legislation which allow repossessions where, for example, landlords face personal financial hardship.
Of course, those safeguards throw up some hard questions. Under the emergency rules, a lender who takes ownership of a property, after a landlord goes bust, can evict sitting tenants. I asked why this should even be possible, given the lender has acquired an asset and a revenue source and could sell it to another landlord. TUPE exists for employees; why not TUPE for tenants? Mr Harvie said this could not be addressed under emergency legislation but it could be considered in the Housing Bill which is coming in 2023.
We pointed out that Springfield and Lord Haughey had both withdrawn from private sector Build to Rent developments, citing the rent freeze and evictions ban as contributory reasons. The Minister said the freeze did not apply to new rents and it, therefore, seemed unlikely that it would prevent BtR developments from happening.
Quoting information from the Legal Services Agency, Kieran asked about the low level of compensation available to tenants who have been illegally evicted by landlords. While there has been an improvement in the way compensation is calculated, it would still be possible for the sum to be set at nil. Mr Harvie reckoned a potential award to tenants of 36 months rent in compensation for losing their home would make most landlords stop and think before acting illegally.
On the thorny subject of how to explain what the rent “freeze” and evictions “ban” actually means to hard-pressed householders struggling to pay their rents, the Minister said the Scottish Government was working hard to ensure the full range of support was brought together on one website for householders and advisers to use. That’s positive; there are so many different places to apply for help that a constantly updated one-stop shop would be a huge help.
In the end, the Minister was clear this is emergency legislation to deal with a short-term need. That means the rent freeze and the evictions ban are temporary. The coming Housing Bill will bring further opportunities for debate about the longer-term transformation of Scotland’s rented housing.
All episodes of the Scottish Housing News Podcast are available here as well as on the following platforms: