By Katy Dickson of Scottish Land & Estates.
The last few weeks of the Scottish Parliament’s latest session was a bit of a whirlwind with a number of pieces of legislation hurtling through their final stages. These included the Land Reform Bill and also the Private Housing (Tenancies (Scotland) Bill). As policy officer for business and property at SLE, the Private Tenancies Bill has been top of my agenda for some time but I have concerns that many people are not yet aware of the consequences of its passage.
The Private Tenancies Bill, which is due to come into force in late 2017, introduces a new regime through which properties can be let. So it’s out with Short Assured Tenancies and in with Scottish Private Residential Tenancies (SPRTs).
The SPRT is heavily weighted in favour of tenants, giving them indefinite security unless one condition from a list of prescribed grounds is met. While Scottish Land & Estates supports a crack-down on unscrupulous evictions, we also have concerns that this Bill does not fulfil the need for a balanced tenancy which will be simpler to use than the current one, and is unlikely to support the private rented sector to continue to meet Scotland’s housing need while other sectors lag behind.
From a particularly rural perspective Scottish Land & Estates lobbied for the Bill to be ‘rural-proofed’. One size will never fit all but the Bill could have been more sympathetic to the needs of landlords, tenants, and their families living and working in more remote areas. There appears to be lack of appreciation that many rural landlords offer the only housing option in the area and often at affordable rates. We cannot put vital, affordable housing supply at risk by disincentivising these providers to such an extent that they withdraw from the market.
The curse of unintended consequences may well be felt before the new regime takes effect. The sector has already seen investors, from an individual scale to a commercial scale, reconsidering the risks of letting property. There will be no initial period, meaning a greater risk of turnover of tenants and there is no flexibility to deal with unusual cases where it is reasonable to ask a tenant to leave.
It’s a shame that the Scottish Government chose to miss the opportunity to iron out disputed areas of the legislation prior to the finalisation of the Bill. Unfortunately they will now likely be resolved at tribunal, at a point when people’s homes and businesses will be at risk.