Steve Burgess: Building up to having a city of good landlords

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Edinburgh is Scotland’s private renting capital. Almost 30 per cent of the Capital’s residents rent from a private landlord, twice as many as rent from the council and housing associations added together and far more than anywhere else in Scotland.

So what happens to private renting matters to the city as a whole. Our ambitions for a fairer, greener city and for neighbourhoods which work depend on a better private rented sector.

That is why I encouraged the council to sign up to the Make Renting Right campaign earlier in the year; and why I support the Living Rent campaign’s aims for a better deal for private tenants.

Just how far short the current arrangements are has been highlighted recently and starkly by the scandal of the Lorne Street evictions where a charity, the Agnes Hunter Trust, is poised to evict more than 100 tenants as it changes the way it operates as a charitable trust.

Leaving aside whether en masse evictions are ever appropriate for a charity, there is still a more fundamental question as to whether it is ever right for landlords to be able unilaterally to terminate a tenancy quite so easily.

The tenants in Lorne Street need an immediate solution, whether that is through transfer to a tenant-led co-op or through transfer to one of the city’s social landlords, as happened routinely in the city in the 1970s and 1980s. But even after the Lorne Street tenants are properly protected and given the assurance that they can stay on in their homes, the case for wider reform remains.

That is why I believe all of Edinburgh’s tenants will welcome current proposals before the Scottish Parliament to extend proper security to tenants and ensure that landlords have to give good reason before bringing a tenancy to an end. As it happens, I believe that the Capital’s good landlords should welcome the proposals as well as a major opportunity to raise the bar of standards and rid the sector of the cowboy landlords who drag its reputation down.

Strengthening the stake which tenants have in their homes makes for better homes too.

Too often tenants are nervous about pressing the case for much-needed repairs as tenancies tick towards their six month expiry. Too often long-term improvements like roof works or energy efficiency are neglected because of a here-today-gone-tomorrow culture. Longer term tenancies are good for better-maintained, warmer homes.

And finally, there is the vexed question of housing costs. Rents are too expensive in Edinburgh, with average rents for a two-bedroom property now at a staggering £850 per month. Fundamentally rents are too high because residential land values are too high: yet another reason why I, and the Greens, support the introduction of Land Value Tax to replace the council tax and the gradual reversal of decades of excessive house price inflation. High house prices ultimately benefit only those who dabble in land speculation.

But even within that, rents are too high and need regulated to ensure a fair return to landlords – much as the taxi industry has its prices regulated: enough to ensure that the operators can run a viable business; but also to ensure that customers are not ripped off.

A better deal for Edinburgh’s tenants is a better deal for Edinburgh.

Steve Burgess is Green councillor for the Southside/Newington ward