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A New Deal For Tenants – Consultation Response

Overview —

Common Weal’s response to the Scottish Government’s New Deal for Tenants Consultation

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Common Weal

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Common Weal’s response to the Scottish Government’s New Deal for Tenants Consultation.

The right for everyone to have access to a safe, warm, affordable and adequate home should be considered foundational to policy-making in Scotland. To invert Aneurin Bevan’s principle that to build a house one must first get everything else right; the lack of the provision of sufficient numbers of adequate housing is a sign that all is not well elsewhere in the Scottish economy.

For too long, housing has been seen as a capital investment, a hedge against inadequate pensions or a vehicle for private profits on the backs of tenants who could not access social housing or could not buy a home for themselves. Social housing has become a “tenancy of last resort” – almost a dumping ground for those failed by the system where it once was and should be again the primary mode by which housing is delivered in Scotland. If anything, it is the private rented sector that should be the “third option” after social rent or home ownership.

Common Weal welcomes this consultation into tenants rights but we are concerned that it will result in many of the same arguments arising as they have many times in the past and will result only in action several years hence. In the mean time, rents will continue to rise and people will continue to suffer from seeing the collective wealth of the nation accumulate with those fortunate enough to have pulled the housing ladder up around them. In particular, any future attempt to bring in Rent Controls must acknowledge the fact that rents have risen considerably in the years since the last, failed attempts and we must receive from the government a commitment that rents will be able to be reduced, not merely frozen or their rate of increase capped.

Common Weal has written extensively on improving housing and the Scottish housing sector and links provided below should be considered part of our response to this consultation.

Additionally, we make several references to the submission by Living Rent to this consultation. Our submission should not be considered a joint submission alongside theirs but we are close allies of the tenants’ union and are happy, in light of their considerable experience of the Scottish rented sector, to refer to and defer to their work with respect to many of their suggested improvements in the system. We encourage and expect the Scottish Government to do the same.

Key Points

―  Scotland should introduce, at pace, a national framework of Rent Controls to be locally controlled by Local Authorities. The policy of Rent Pressure Zones has failed and should be scrapped.

―  These controls should enable current rents to be reduced, not just frozen or their increase capped or limited. A quality-based, points-based system similar to our own proposals are preferred. We object strongly to any form of rent controls based on inflation metrics. Any appeal against current or proposed rents should never result in the amount proposed being increased as this will strongly deter tenants from appealing.

― A “Tenants First” approach should be taken to policy design. The rights of tenants to a safe, warm, secure and affordable home are ultimately more important than the desire of landlords to expect ever increasing profits from an investment.

― The social rented sector should no longer be seen as a provider of housing as a last resort but as the primary mode of housing delivery in Scotland. It is well placed to provide a sufficient number of homes at a quality that far outmatches current private provision and at a price that outcompetes both private rent and owner-occupation. This follows our blueprint for the provision of eco-homes for social rent here.

― The grounds for the eviction of tenants should be significantly amended. A new provision should be added to allow for the eviction of those who commit domestic abuse within a home (while allowing the victim-survivor(s) of such abuse to remain) but grounds to evict tenants so that a home can be used for non-domestic purposes (e.g. short-term lets) should be removed, evictions for the purposes of renovation/repair should only be on a short term basis with the landlord paying for relocation until renovations are complete and the tenant can return, and grounds such as the desire of the landlord to move themselves or family into the property should be backed by evidence that such a move took place within a reasonable time or the former tenant should be due compensation. Grounds such as the sale of the property or the landlord losing their licence to let should be significantly curtailed in favour of measures to allow the tenant to stay in place (e.g. the tenant purchasing the house or the tenant’s contract transferring to a new landlord while they remain in place).

― Data on rented accommodation should be made public and freely searchable as part of a landlord’s licence to let. This includes past and present rent in a particular home and the ability to see a particular landlord’s entire rented portfolio. This would allow tenants to determine if their rent is a fair price compared to similar accommodation in the area or compared to that being charged to other tenants by the same landlord. If discrimination is detected in charged rent or other conditions, tenants should be able to report this through a dedicated “discrimination hotline”.

― Tenants should enjoy much greater rights. The right to own pets should be brought on par with owner-occupiers (i.e. restrictions on exotic or agricultural animals may be permitted) and tenants should have the right to decorate their home as they wish with reasonable stipulations remaining around restoring a room to its previous state or repainting it to a neutral colour prior to departure.

― Membership of a tenants’ union should be strongly encouraged. Landlords should provide all tenants with an information pack including how to join their local union, where to find rent and other data for their home and landlord as well as directions on how to contact the discrimination hotline and other reporting mechanisms.

― Landlords must, as a condition of their licence, keep their buildings in good repair and up to current energy efficiency standards. If an urgent repair is required or a landlord refuses to make a repair in good time, the tenant should have the right to make the repair and claim back costs from the landlord and without fear of eviction or loss of deposit.

― Landlords who lose their licence to let or who wish to exit from their investments should be allowed, encouraged or in some cases compelled to sell their property to the social rented sector at a fair price (with any tenants kept in place should they desire to do so).

― The right to modify a home for accessibility reasons must be significantly extended. Non-structural modifications (e.g. installation of a stairlift) should be allowed without notice. Structural modifications (e.g. construction of a downstairs wetroom) should not necessarily occur without notification but it should be incumbent on a landlord to facilitate such modifications where possible. Landlords may negotiate with the tenant as to how much each party will share the costs of the modification. Refusal to facilitate accessibility aids when required should be considered a refusal to maintain the building in good repair.

― Evictions should not normally take place in during the Winter Period. Nor should they take place during times of adverse weather, civil disorder, pandemic or natural disaster or any other time when the eviction could threaten the health of the evicted tenant. A “No Disconnection” policy should apply during no eviction periods and a landlord may not discriminate against a tenant whose eviction is blocked by adverse conditions. An exception may apply to evictions ordered on the grounds of domestic abuse where the safety of others within the home may be at risk.

― Student accommodation should be regulated as equivalent to other private rented sector accommodation.

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