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The Scottish government finally published the Housing Bill! Here are our thoughts.

Yesterday, the Scottish Government published the long awaited Housing (Scotland) Bill this week! 

Whilst there is much to be done to improve, it is a Bill that landlords are raging over, which is testament to the Bill’s radical potential. And let’s be clear, without us pushing and fighting for this over the last 10 years, rent controls would not be on the table. As ever, there’s more to fight for, but here are our thoughts on the bill and what needs to be done to improve it.

The headlines.

Good (as it stands..)

  • Rents tied to property, not the tenancy and landlords can only increase rent once a year (in rent control areas (RCA)).
  • Rent can be capped at 0% in RCAs. 
  • Rights for tenants with pets and decorating.
  • Landlords will have to provide info on how much they rented flat out previously.
  • Any tenant can end a joint tenancy provided that they give their flatmates a months notice.

Bad.

  • Unclear mechanism to collect data which made RPZs unworkable.
  • Low or no fines for landlords that break the rules.
  • RCAs hard to implement.
  • Tenants have to appeal against a rent increase that is higher than allowed.
  • Some properties will be exempt..

Rent controls

The bill states that in order for tenants to get rent controls,  Local Authorities (LA) will need to assess whether part or all of their region should be designated a ‘rent control area’ (RCA). In order to do this, they will need to assess the ‘level of rent payable’ and ‘the rate of increase in rent payable’. Initially, this might be an issue, as it is currently unclear how LA's will get this data. In fact, a similar requirement with Rent Pressure Zones (which came into force in legislation in 2016 ) made the policy unworkable.

However, if an area is designated a RCA (and this can be a whole Local Authority) it will limit increases to one of a number of criteria, which - importantly for tenants -  can be 0%. This is an important and good shift from the rent pressure zones (RPZs) of 2016, which did not allow for whole LA’s to be designated RPZs and their lowest increase limit was RPI+1%+’X’ figure.

The Bill currently states that RCAs will last for five years at which point they can be renewed. However the bill also says that RCAs can be revoked before the five years are up.

The Bill also states that in order to designate an area a 'rent control area', Local Authorities will have to consult with "persons who appear to [the govt] to represent the interests of tenants and landlords under relevant tenancies of properties in the proposed rent control area." This highlights for tenants the importance of organising in our neighbourhoods and cities as local authorities must consult with them in order to implement the legislation. If we are not organised in areas, there is a high chance landlords will be able to heavily sway the conversation.

An important part of the Bill for tenants and an important victory that we need to push to ensure is included in the final legislation, is that when landlords register, they will be required to state how much they are renting their property out for as well as how much the previous tenants were paying; how many rooms are in the property and surface area. They will also be fined £1,000 for not providing the information. This is great for tenants as it will ensure greater transparency in the rental sector and ensure that tenants have the means to be able to challenge unfair rent increases. That said, the fine of £1,000 is very low when we consider that it could mean that they are unlawfully charging hundreds of pounds more in rent than they should be able to. 

Another great win for tenants is the provisions on joint tenancies. In RCAs, landlords won't be able to increase rents between tenancies and will only be able to increase rents once a year as controls will be tied to the property not the tenancy. This is incredibly important. Throughout the rent cap (and now after the rent cap), landlords were able to exploit loopholes in the legislation as the rent caps did not apply between tenancies. So if a tenant left a tenancy, this would spell the end of the tenancy for their flatmates too, enabling their landlord to hike up the rent. This also incentivised landlords to get rid of tenants in order to hike up rent. These provisions stop that from happening and state that rent can only be increased once every calendar year.  The legislation also states that a single tenant can leave the joint tenancy (great) and the tenancy won’t end for the other flatmates.

The Bill also includes provisions to enable tenants to keep pets and for tenants to be able to decorate their homes. 

Howver there are some key issues. If a landlord tries to increase rents by more than they're allowed to, even in a rent control area, then then the onus is on tenants to appeal the increase. That process is complicated and confusing, and crucially - it doesn't look like there's a penalty for landlords who 'chance' it. A key provision we will need to push for is ensuring that there are meaningful penalties that prevent landlords from trying to chance an unlawful rent increase. 

With evictions, though the bill includes provisions around the delays to enforcement orders and consideration of penalties for the enforcement of illegal evictions, there is nothing about reviewing the grounds for eviction which we desperately need.

There are also big unanswered questions about the implementation of rent control areas. As we said above, there is not clarity on the process for local authorities to be able to implement rent control areas and the process currently looks hard and slow.

The bill also enables ministers to determine some types of tenancies that might be exempt from RCAs. This could look like loads of different tenancies, for instant students, but also maybe other ones and will be a key one to scrutinise.

So….though there are some important wins in the legislation, we know that landlords will be fighting tooth and nail to get them taken out. This Bill is a key opportunity for us to come together and fight for a Housing Bill that works for tenants. 

We need to organise to fight to strengthen the enforcement mechanisms, (such as higher penalties for landlords who break the rules) and greater ease for local authorities to declare housing emergencies. 

If you haven't already, join Living Rent and get active in the fight for a fairer housing system for tenants now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 









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