Report lifts the lid on Glasgow’s ‘powerless’ private tenants

Glasgow PRS stockA new report into the private rented sector in Glasgow has found that most tenants feel powerless and worry that they have little more than a month’s security of tenure.

Govan Law Centre’s research report, which was funded by the Big Lottery in Scotland, details the personal experience of a wide range of tenants in Glasgow’s private rented sector.

Tenants describe how they only see their landlord when rent is due and wait weeks without repairs to heating or windows.

An earlier study found 11 per cent of private tenants never feel warm in their homes.

The latest research by Govan Law Centre (GLC) coincides with new figures showing there are roughly 60,000 privately let homes in the city.

The number of private lets has jumped 170 per cent since 2001, including a leap of 20 per cent between 2011 and 2013.

Across Scotland the number of privately rented homes has risen from six per cent of the total in 1999 to 14.6 per cent. Yet the sector accounts for 18 per cent of homelessness claims as tenants lose their homes and one in four properties deemed by law to be slums, to be “below tolerable standard”.

The problem, argues the GLC, is that these tens of thousands of people lack the full protection of the law from inexperienced landlords or cynical letting agents.

The tenants surveyed for the report represent a common experience which GLC said it has no reason to believe is not replicated across Scotland and the UK.

GLC housing factsLearning from their experience, the report makes a number of major law reform, practice and policy recommendations.

It calls for a Private Rented Sector Housing Inspectorate with powers similar to the Scottish Housing Regulator be set up – a Scotland-wide organisation with ‘legal teeth’ to make sure tenants’ rights are a reality.

GLC also urged the Scottish Government’s Private Rented Housing (Tenancies) Bill is amended in order to give Scotland private rented sector tenants a little power, choice and security in their relationships with private landlords.

Mike Dailly, principal solicitor at the Govan Law Centre, said: “Our report confirms that far too often tenants in Scotland’s private rented sector are getting very poor value for money.

“In addition to rent paid privately, there is almost half a billion pounds in housing benefit going into the Scottish private rented sector.

“And yet there is very little control of quality standards or indeed compliance with Scots housing law.

“The system is broken. It is inadequate and utterly unfit for a modern 21st century that talks about equality of opportunity for the many.

“And the greatest irony is tenants often pay almost double the rents charged to social rented sector tenants who enjoy a regulatory regime.

“The sector is riddled with bad and unlawful practice as this report evidences beyond any shadow of a doubt.

“The relationship between private landlord and tenant is utterly unbalanced and unequal.”

A landlord campaign group said while it recognises some of the localised issues raised by the Govan Law Centre, the report in no way reflects Scotland’s private rented sector as a whole.

Dan Cookson, head of research at Lettingweb for PRS 4 Scotland, said: “Scotland’s PRS is the most highly regulated in the UK and the sweeping generalisations he makes demonise a sector that has made great strides to set high standards.

“The sector has embraced change, welcomes regulation that supports both tenants and landlords and contrary to the picture painted by Mr Dailly’s survey, is one of ongoing improvement. Scottish Government figures show 85 per cent satisfaction with providers in PRS, the largest tenant survey by Lettingstats shows just 14 per cent of sitting tenants experienced rent rises and according to the Scottish House Condition Survey, only 6 per cent or properties were ‘below tolerable standard’ – and that figure was decreasing further.

“If there is a failure in the system it is that the lack of housing has created a situation where demand far outstrips supply. If we could establish a policy environment that incentivises existing landlords and encourages institutional investment to ‘build for rent’ we would see the kind of growth in good quality, affordable long-term rental properties that is taking place in England. If this were to happen, we would not have to rely on the ‘accidental landlord’ to fill the housing gap. Instead, with more choice, all landlords would have to compete for tenants by providing the kind of homes rental tenants want to live in.”

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