For far too many people, the experience of living in the private rented sector has been one of insecurity, poor conditions and powerlessness – but thanks to Shelter Scotland’s campaigning and Scottish Government action this is starting to change.
In response to renters’ concerns about poor practice in the private rented sector, all letting agents in Scotland are now required to start the process of registering, adhere to a Code of Practice and undergo training on how to operate as a letting agent. For people looking for a private rented home this is a significant step-change in how confident they can be in the process of seeking and keeping a home.
The standard of service renters can expect from their letting agent is brought together in a clear and easy to navigate Code of Practice. In the end legal rights are only worth the paper they’re written on unless they’re actually enforceable. So the Code of Practice is backed up by a power to take complaints to the Housing and Property Chamber of the First-Tier Tribunal, if they can’t be resolved directly with their letting agent.
To ensure that renters can pursue complaints regardless of their income, issues can be taken to the Tribunal for free, and compensation can be awarded to renters if a significant breach of the Code of Practice is found to have occurred. Crucially, if letting agents consistently breach the Code of Practice they can be removed from the register and prevented from running a letting agency business. Thereby protecting even more tenants from unscrupulous agents.
Letting agent regulation isn’t the only recent change to Scotland’s private rented sector: it follows on the heels of the new Private Residential Tenancy and tribunal. Renters have also benefited in recent years from the introduction of tenancy deposit protection along with clear legislation confirming that upfront letting fees are unlawful.
Taken together, these reforms put private renters in Scotland on a much strong footing than they were just ten years ago in terms of their consumer rights. And while disputes do still occur in Scotland’s private rented sector and some letting agents, for example, still charge unlawful upfront fees and holding deposits, these recent changes give renters an extra avenue to challenge poor practice.
For renters it is critical that these reforms lead to a new era for the private rented sector: one where tenants have genuine choice over their housing, they receive the quality of service they deserve, and when issues arise they are empowered to take action to resolve them.
Combine this with a concerted effort to build the affordable homes people in Scotland need then we’ll really begin to make significant inroads into our housing crisis.
Find out more about the new tenancy on Shelter Scotland’s New House Rules website.
If you are currently experiencing a housing problem you can get free advice from Shelter Scotland online and over the phone on 0808 800 4444.