The Renter’s Dilemma

Nicola Biggerstaff – 7 October 2022

Earlier this year, I wrote about my struggle to find an affordable house while renting – this being the supposed stepping stone which, in recent years, has turned into a spiralling trap for young people and first time buyers in Britain. While I, luckily, have now been successful in finding somewhere I love and look forward to moving in, I now find myself haunted by what should have been the easiest step in the whole process: leaving my rented flat. Lies, deception and trickery around every corner has left me plagued with stress and anxiety which could have been avoided.

Yes, oddly enough, despite the news this week that several lenders were now withdrawing mortgage offers in the face of the economic turmoil caused by the mini budget, securing my own offer has been the least of my worries in the last two weeks. It’s confirmed, I’ve bought a flat, and I won’t be paying the extortionate mortgage rates now being bandied about in the media. The problems only began when I went to double check my notice period.

As I mentioned last time, the England-based company I rent from have been trying to sell my flat at auction. They have still been unsuccessful at time of writing, however I discovered, despite them claiming otherwise over the phone, they are trying again in the coming months. The sense of urgency surrounding potential homelessness (which compelled me to jump headfirst into the buyer’s market in the first place) still lingers, and so my motivation to buy is still just as prominent. I do not regret taking the leap, but I do regret not ensuring I was 100% informed beforehand.

I signed a short-assured tenancy (which I wasn’t aware had actually been replaced as part of the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016) for my current flat, and had incurred a fixed term as part of this contract. I have been told by my solicitor that the references to English legislation throughout voids the whole agreement, and I am therefore free to leave under the blanket terms of the Act itself. However, my landlord is playing hardball. They have so far claimed I’m still liable and will not accept my notice. I have also (crudely) estimated that they could attempt to charge me somewhere in the region of £4000 in due rent and additional costs.

I am by no means a wholly innocent party: do you remember the first time you didn’t read a contract, or the T&Cs on a product or service thoroughly, and the consequences came back to bite? Well, this is mine. It’s humiliating, it’s humbling, and it’s a mistake you only make once. Yet the question remains: how many other people like me have been deceived in this way? Are they causing such a fuss because I’m the first one, or am I just the first one to point it out? Is it because I’m a young woman? A young woman who was, at the time, a naïve essential worker, whose only concern was finding a place to stay which was close to her work. Did they think it would fly under the radar while we were all distracted by other issues?

The onus should not be on the renter to check if their contract is in fact legal. I’m fortunate that my conveyancing solicitor took an interest in my predicament and passed my case on to a colleague, but I should not have had to do this. Whether this was a legal oversight by an English company, or a genuine attempt to deceive their Scottish tenants, remains to be seen.

I used to joke that every conversation I had about my new flat cost me money, mostly in the hidden fees no one talks about during the buying process. Now I find myself potentially spending even more to escape this trap I’ve been put in by a landlord. This is money which I don’t have now that my deposit has essentially wiped out my savings. I am again one of the very, very lucky ones who has a supportive network that can help me when I need it most, but like I said last time, it should not have to be this way. There have to be more checks in place on the power of landlords in Scotland, so the recent news of King Charles’ vetting powers on Scotland’s emergency rent freeze legislation does not sit well with us at all!

Even when I leave, it will not be the end of this nightmare: will they try to keep my deposit? Will they keep the property vacant and make me liable for damage from neglect? What trick won’t they play to bleed as much money from me as possible? How much more will this cost me in legal fees after conveyancing? How much longer will I be able to put up with the stress-induced nausea and the lingering feeling of doom?

Without wanting to sound like an entitled Gen Z, lamenting at the lack of a manual for life, the whole system is rigged against people like me, who just want to make a start in life having already been burdened with the economic fallout of Covid and over a decade of Tory austerity. Even more so for those on low or single incomes, who have much less of a safety net should things go wrong. There is little to no help out there for us and we’re expected to just cope with the ever changing landscape. Just pay for it, just accept it, just get on with it. We’re tired, we’re angry, and hell mend any politician who makes this worse for us.

My advice to any young person in this situation – renting or buying – read, read, read! If you’re not sure about anything you’re asked to sign, contact a solicitor in the first instance. For those on a low budget, you can contact Citizen’s Advice Scotland or Shelter Scotland for free and confidential advice.

Also, stay informed! The latest legislation’s fast track through parliament has left massive gaps for scrutiny which, at the moment, are being filled by landlords and their own interests. These landlords include some of the very MSPs involved in the scrutiny process! Make your voice heard today.

1 thought on “The Renter’s Dilemma”

  1. Ian Davidson

    Nicola. Congrats and hope all goes well with move. Housing law is complex; even though I was a (benefits) advice worker from 1991, my knowledge of housing law was thin until I started work on a Housing Association and later working in a CAB. My knowledge is now thin again, no longer working in advice. Ironic that the “radical” 2016 legislation is already requiring overhaul as society has changed dramatically. Your advice to seek advice is good advice; I would add to that Living Rent who seem to be very effective at resolving individual problems via community action!

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