The private rented sector’s growth in Scotland is well documented: the most up to date statistics show that the number of households renting in the sector has tripled since 1999. 350,000 households now rent from private landlords, with a quarter of these households containing children.

This growth, coupled with the changing nature of the private renter, has brought significant challenges for the sector, and the balance of power between landlords, letting agents and tenants has – quite rightly – been closely scrutinised. Private tenants are no longer willing to put up with short-term contracts, extortionate upfront letting fees and poor conditions.

The good news is that through new regulation we’re starting to see the relationship between landlords and tenants slowly re-balance, for example through the introduction of tenancy deposit schemes, a clarification on unlawful upfront fees and, soon, the new private tenancy. This hasn’t gone far enough though. Too many private renters still come to Shelter Scotland each year to complain about poor conditions and in some instances even challenge illegal evictions.

This was the focus of a Shelter Scotland conference which took place two weeks ago in Edinburgh (14 September). We brought together private landlords, letting agents, tenant groups and local authorities to define how best to coordinate action to raise standards in Scotland’s private rented sector. Delegates heard from letting agents who tailor their services for tenants who might need a bit of extra help, whether through hands on help with housing benefit claims or seeking support from other service providers. Trading Standards outlined how in one local authority they work with the housing department to tackle poor practice and management in the lettings sector. We also heard from our very own Shelter Scotland project based out of Lochaber and Dundee which helps landlords raise standards by providing direct support to assist them with meeting regulatory requirements.

Recent years have rightly focused on filling the regulatory gaps which exist in Scotland’s private rented sector. Arguably, this could be tweaked and added to, but the focus should now be putting this growing toolbox of regulation into practice. To do this we need to find a way to bring together local authorities, private landlords, letting agents, charities and social landlords in a consistent and innovative way. There is a strong case for the good practice outlined above to be rolled out across the whole of Scotland, thereby ensuring that all private renters in Scotland have high quality homes that they can call their own.

Thank you to Weslo Housing Management Ltd for sponsoring Shelter Scotland’s private rented sector conference.