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The Housing (Scotland) Bill - A balancing act of Landlord and Tenant rights?

The Housing (Scotland) Bill - A balancing act of Landlord and Tenant rights?

One of the biggest problems facing rural communities in Scotland, is a shortage of affordable housing. The lack of available housing, particularly in the rented sector, is a key factor in rural depopulation.

Last month, the Scottish Government introduced the Housing (Scotland) Bill (“the Bill”), which includes various proposals for reforms to the private rental sector in Scotland, which they hope will bring greater protection for tenants and prevent homelessness.   While the Bill proposes an array of reforms in an attempt to fulfil these aims, some of which are detailed below, the effect of the proposed measures on the rural rental sector will be far reaching.

Power to Convert Assured Tenancies:

Currently, existing assured tenancies can be converted to Private Residential Tenancies either by agreement between the landlord and the tenant, or in certain circumstances where a sole tenant dies, and their resident spouse or civil partner wishes to continue to reside in the property as their principal home.  The Bill is seeking to impose the conversion of all assured tenancies into Private Residential Tenancies on an assigned date. A blanket conversion could have radical consequences for landlords, particularly when seeking to bring the tenancy to an end. 

Rent Controls:

The Bill is vague on rent control measures, with no specific controls or level of rent caps mentioned. However, the proposal is to impose a duty on local authorities to carry out assessments of the private rental market in their areas, and make recommendations to the Scottish Ministers about whether or not to impose rent control areas, having regard to whether this would be necessary to protect the interests of tenants in the area. The Scottish Ministers will then have the power to place limits on rent increases, including restrictions on increases within the first year of a tenancy (within rent control areas), and limits on the number of rent increases during tenancies (within and out with rent control areas).  To facilitate this, landlords will be obliged to give local authorities details of their tenants’ current rent including the most recent rent increase and will face penalties for failure to comply.

Evictions:

The Bill also attempts to give tenants safeguards to prevent them from being evicted and potentially becoming homeless. Part 2 of the Bill introduces a “duty to consider delay to eviction”  for tenants under all types of tenancies. This measure, if introduced, will require the First-tier Tribunal For Scotland (Housing and Property Chamber) to consider whether the eviction should be delayed if the absence of a delay would cause the tenant, or the tenant’s household,  financial hardship or have a detrimental effect on the health of the tenant or the tenant’s householdInterestinglythe Tribunal may also consider how the eviction will affect the landlord’s financial and health status, when considering if there should be a delay in bringing the tenancy to an end.  However, there will be no such duty imposed on the Tribunal if they are satisfied that the only grounds established for eviction are (a) that the tenant is not occupying the property as their home; (b) that the tenant has a relevant conviction and/or (c) that the tenant has engaged in relevant antisocial behaviour.

The Bill will also make it possible for the Tribunal to order a landlord or their agent to pay damages of between three and 36 months’ rent to a tenant, if they find that the landlord has “unlawfully deprived a residential occupier of premises from occupying the premises”. 

Tenant’s rights to keep pets and make changes to let property: 

The Bill proposes that tenants in private and social residential properties, will be entitled to ask for permission to have a pet in their rented premises, and landlords cannot unreasonably refuse their consent.  It remains to be seen whether refusal on the grounds of surrounding livestock would be considered as  “reasonable”. 

Tenants wishing to make alterations to privately rented properties, will be entitled to so either with, or without landlord consent, depending on the type of alteration proposed.  

Ask and Act Duty:

In an attempt to tackle one of the main drivers of the Bill; the prevention of homelessness, Health and Social Care services, children’s services, police, and other government agencies will be legally obligated to “ask and act”, to make preventing homelessness a shared responsibility across the public sector. There will also be a duty on landlords to prioritise applications from homeless or those who are about to become homeless. The idea behind this reform is that early action, and a more collective approach to responsibility for homelessness, will help reduce instances of it. 

This is the first draft of the legislation with the Bill at Committee Stage, who are tasked with examining the Bill and gathering views.  With a real opportunity for the government to ensure robust and well-functioning tenancies to serve rural areas,  your views on the Bill can be submitted here with the call for views closing on 17th May 2024. 

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About the authors

Rebecca Ellwood
Rebecca Ellwood

Rebecca Ellwood

Senior Solicitor

Land & Rural Business

Jennifer Harris
Jennifer Harris

Jennifer Harris

Trainee Solicitor

Land & Rural Business

For more information, contact Rebecca Ellwood or any member of the Land & Rural Business team on +44 1738 472779.