Councils to be empowered to inspect PRS homes and challenge landlords

Glasgow PRS stockNew powers are to be introduced to enable local authorities to take action against private landlords who do not maintain homes to proper living standards.

From April, provisions enacted in the Housing (Scotland) Act will give councils a right of entry to the privately rented homes as well as the ability to enforce a maintenance standard.

This ‘repairing standard’ specifies a number of criteria that a property must meet, including conditions relating to fire and electrical safety, carbon monoxide detection, and that the house is wind and watertight and otherwise fit for human habitation.

It is hoped that the policy will be particularly beneficial to families and young people who may have previously been unable or unwilling to assert their right to live in a house that meets the repairing standard.

The private rented sector (PRS) has more than doubled in size in the past 15 years and covers more than an eighth of all homes in Scotland. One of the fastest-growing groups of tenants since 1999 has been families - in 2013, nearly a quarter of PRS households had children, an estimated 80,000 households compared to 20,000 in 1999. The sector now provides a home for nearly one in seven of all households with children.

The councils will be able to inspect the property and refer the landlord to the Private Rented Housing Panel (PHRP), established to mediate between tenants and landlords, under a “third-party application”.

Landlords had to be compelled to make repairs in three-quarters of cases referred to the PHRP in 2013.

The Scottish Government commissioned a child rights and wellbeing impact assessment (CRWIA) to ensure the policy will have no adverse impact on child wellbeing.

The report states: “Anecdotal evidence suggests that tenants are reluctant to take action to force the landlord to undertake necessary repairs or improvements, for a variety of reasons.

“In some cases tenants may not be aware of their rights or be confident in taking action to enforce their right.

“The policy gives local authorities new powers to enforce the repairing standard and to drive up standards in the condition of PRS (private rented sector) homes.”

It added: “The available evidence indicates that children and young people from certain groups are more likely to be living in poor quality housing such as ethnic minority, migrant families and students.

“In addition, some authorities have indicated that the new powers could be used in a targeted way with a focus on vulnerable tenants.

“This may mean that the positive impacts may be felt more by children from certain groups.

“For example, the policy may help to address the problems linked to sub-standard housing for children and young people from low-income households, or at risk of homelessness.”

It continued: “The number of applications to the PRHP from tenants in 2013 had increased by 12 per cent to 257. Of these, 124 cases proceeded to committee.

“In 33 cases the landlord took action to comply with the repairing standard; in the remaining 91 cases the PRHP were able to issue a repairing standards enforcement order to require the landlord to make necessary repairs and improvements.”

Authorities can make use of the powers from April 1.

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