James Battye: Time to drive up standards for Scotland’s private renters

James Battye is Private Rented Sector Project Manager at Shelter Scotland. Picture; contributed

James Battye is Private Rented Sector Project Manager at Shelter Scotland. Picture; contributed

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Private renting in Scotland has undergone huge changes over the past ten years. The number of private renters has more than doubled to 330,000 households with an estimated 700,000 people now renting from private landlords in Scotland.

The typical private renter has also changed. Today the sector provides homes for many people who, ten or 20 years ago, might have aspired to live in the social rented sector or buy their own home. It is also home to 85,000 families with children – households for whom certainty and stability are absolutely essential.

In Edinburgh, 70,000 households rent privately – 29 per cent of all households and double the national average. Around 11,000 of those households have 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 – which Shelter Scotland helped secure through our Make Renting Right campaign – we’re starting to see the relationship between landlords and tenants slowly rebalance.

Nowadays, private landlords need to register with local authorities before they can rent out property. Tenancy deposit schemes now protect private tenants’ deposits. Upfront fees charged by letting agents are banned. Local authorities have greater powers to tackle poor conditions.

From late 2017 a new tribunal will hear private renting housing issues and from early 2018 letting agent regulation will drive up standards. A new private tenancy, due to be introduced in late 2017, will enhance tenants’ rights and give private renters much-needed certainty that they can call their house a home long-term.

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 challenge illegal evictions.

At a Shelter Scotland conference last week in Edinburgh 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.

Slowly but surely we are building a modern private rented sector Scotland can be proud of, with a better balance of rights for Scotland’s growing number of private renters. The focus should now be putting this growing toolbox of regulation into practice – ensuring that all private renters in Scotland have high quality homes that they can call their own.

James Battye is Private Rented Sector Project Manager at Shelter Scotland