Rethink Renting – the new campaign from Shelter Scotland

Six months is not a long time. It’s less than a football season; just longer than a school term and about as long as the gestation period for the largest type of bat. But under housing law it’s as long as you have security in your own home if you rent privately.

After six months, just when you’ve worked out how late you can leave it before heading out the house and still making it to work on time, your landlord can give notice to turf you out for whatever reason. And if you don’t think this happens then just wait till the Commonwealth Games come to Glasgow, where landlords will think they can make a quick buck, or ask around your friends and family. Insecurity in the private rented sector is a sorry fact of life.

The law that sets out the most common leasing agreement used in the private rented sector, short assured tenancies, was brought in by the government in the 1980s in an attempt to boost the rental sector. A lack of security for tenants was seen as being a necessary trade off to encourage landlords to rent out properties.  Having to move home every few months wasn’t seen as a huge problem for a sector then regarded as being populated by students and young people.

Rethink renting suitcase

Since then, however, the right to buy and a continuing lack of investment in building homes for social rent has meant that if you can’t afford a mortgage, and social housing isn’t available locally then your only option is a private let. This has changed both the number and type of person who is renting privately.  We now see many more families and people for whom a lack of security in where they live creates a problem than was the case thirty years ago. In the past ten years the sector itself has doubled and surprisingly it is where the largest number of families with children who present as being homeless previously lived – more than any other sector or tenure.

If a six month lease with a rolling month to month contract wasn’t seen as being a problem for a student thirty years ago then it certainly is for a family now. Bringing children up when you don’t know where you’re going to be in six months time is hard enough but doubly so when your move might also involve them moving school or leaving behind friends and family support in the neighbourhood.

That’s why Shelter Scotland thinks it’s time to rethink renting. It’s time to ensure that we have a private rented sector that is fit for families and fair for all. Where as long as you pay your rent your home is yours for as long as you need it. And that’s why over the coming months we’ll be campaigning to make sure that politicians understand that it’s simply not acceptable for tenants and families to be forced to move on the whim of their landlord. Progressive and workable examples of better systems can be seen in many of our European neighbours including Germany, Spain, France and Ireland. It’s time we took a leaf out of their book and brought our renting legislation out of the 1980s and up to date.

Sign up to our rethink renting campaign.

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Murdo Mathison

Murdo Mathison

I’m the campaigns and public affairs manager for Shelter Scotland and work in both our Glasgow and Edinburgh offices. I lead our campaigns work and our contact with politicians. I’ve got three kids and a dog I like spending as much time as I can with and sometimes manage to fit in watching Partick Thistle win this season’s first division title too.

  • Jonathan

    Your last campaign has seen rents start to rise…. Let’s see what this one does… Your basic lack of understanding is incredible. “not acceptable for tenants and families to be forced to move on the whim of their landlord”? What not even if they are about to go bankrupt or have their own home repossessed if they don’t sell their rented flat? Shelter need to stop starting with the view that landlords are some strange sub-culture. The reason so many properties are now let out is because people have been unable to sell their flat as they move in with their partner or to a bigger house with their family as theirs grow. Why don’t shelter take a step back and take time to understand the PRS and then start working with all stakeholders including landlords to make PRS a better place.

    • Murdo_Mathison

      Thanks for your comment. You might be interested in reading our submission to the Scottish Government’s strategy for the private rented sector which gives much more information than a short blog piece was ever going to do. Hopefully this sets your mind at ease regarding the specific examples you gave and rest assured we do work closely with landlord organisations and other stakeholders to strengthen the sector and to work towards common goals. Finally, our reclaim your fees work which I think you refer to simply encouraged people to utilise their rights under the law as it stood and stands.

      • Jonathan

        Murdo, thanks for your reply. I have read all your submissions to The SG consultations. I agree wholeheartedly that agents should not be charging illegal premiums as many of them did and some will continue regardless of new legislation. The difficulty with the way you approached this in a combative manner against all agents is that this is undoubtedly resulting in an increase in rents. There are many agents who charged what they believed were the actual costs of reference checking a prospective tenant with their agreement and this was not a premium under housing legislation. In fact, Shelter were involved in helping Edinburgh Council set up their extremely useful and successful Letwise (now disbanded due to cost cutting) service for advising landlords, agents and tenants. The core guidance and standards issued in order to be accredited by the council and given membership of their ELA (Edinburgh Landlord Accreditation) scheme advised agents and landlords to ensure they only charged actual costs of reference checking. Good letting agents who merely followed this guidance are now being placed by you in the same bracket as the “bad agents”. In reading your consultation on the tenant information packs which are coming next, Shelter’s response suggests that there is no need for any electrical testing to be done in properties being let as this would “place too much burden on landlords”. Given the third most common cause of fires in Scotland is electrical faults and it is illegal to let a property without a safe electrical system, all I am suggesting is that Shelter take a more balanced view of the whole market place and where their priorities in campaigning should lie. Even if rent rises by just £10/month as a result of your campaign against all agents, a tenant will be paying £120/annum more in rent and most reputable letting agents were charging reasonable fees for referencing of just £50 to £75. A better way to run your campaign would have been to target those agents charging unreasonable fees or actual premiums. You will surely just reply saying all fees were already classed as premiums but the law is not as simple as you make out otherwise The SG would not be clarifying it. Reference checking and credit checking did not really exist when premiums were defined in 1984 and the aim of outlawing premiums was to stop the charging of Key Money which was clearly a way agents and landlords were using to try to avoid their income being curtailed by rent controls.

        • If the system is perceived as unjust, there will never be any peace:
          Here’s a short version of documents that show that the Section 21 enactment of 1988 has probably delivered swift turmoil and deprivation to some people:

          “Another problem is the way the courts deal with termination of assured short hold leases. It’s more like a fast-track service for impatient landlords than any activity with justice in mind.

          The tenant has no defence and pays every cost that arises. If the landlord doesn’t like the tenant, he is free to hire a lawyer to complete the Claim form and all charges get paid by the tenant. That amounted to £458 for me.

          Clerks at the court reception area are still green to what a cruel system it is. They advised me to write to the judge before the claim was decided. Their computer wasn’t updated and the decision had already been made so the judge, reading my letter subsequent to issue of the court order, took it upon himself to set a hearing. I thought he’d seen reason to give me an opportunity to defend myself but the hearing was just a short time for him to say that: 1. These possession orders are never set aside, and 2. I could not prove that possession would cause extreme hardship (apart from the possibility of becoming homeless and being put into debt by the costs.) No time was given to talk about the costs, except to add up the new total arising from the hearing (£687, because the landlord was free to bring along his solicitor).

          The landlord could then apply a third blow by putting in
          a bailiff application because the ‘hearing’ left me with 2 days to give possession. From the start the landlord had been in communication with the charity that was helping me to find a new place and he knew there was no need for a bailiff. I can show that this was just one of many hostile acts: the motive was the bailiff fee of £100, bringing my total to near £800.

          I think this procedure might interest the European Court. What do you think?

        • Thanks for your comments.

          One of the main issues behind the reclaim your fees campaign were tenants being unable to take on properties they could otherwise afford because of having to find upfront money on top of the deposit.

          With regards to the rethink renting campaign, I would be interested in your views on the proposal this post was about, and the submission I linked to in my last response, around the lack of security of tenure in the private rented sector.

          Thanks again.

          Murdo

  • My sister and her husband rented in Vienna for 6 years until late 2011. Their initial lease was for three years. My sister said one year leases were rare. Most landlords wanted to rent properties for extended periods of time, and towards the end of their time in Vienna, when they were seeking a one year lease, they found it quite difficult to find a property.

    Interestingly, curiously from an Australian perspective, many properties were rented without light fittings, giving the tenant the opportunity to “renovate/redecorate” the property to their own preferences. My sister reported that some properties came without baths in the bathroom. When she enquired why the bath was missing, well it is up to the tenant to fit out the bathroom as they wish. And of course, the tenant are free to remove bath/lighting/any other fittings that they installed.

    Can anyone else confirm this kind of experience???

    Brian, Adelaide, Australia