Scottish Land & Estates has said new amendments to the Private Housing (Tenancies) Bill have the potential to create significant problems for the provision of rural homes.
The Bill reached its Stage Two process when the Scottish Parliament’s Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee met yesterday to discuss amendments that have been lodged.
In total, 198 amendments had been submitted to the original draft Bill, demonstrating the depth of feeling regarding the future of the private rented sector and perhaps indicating there has been a lack of thorough consideration due to rushed timescales.
Scottish Land & Estates said that it was particularly concerned that an amendment by Alex Johnstone MSP to allow a landlord to ask a tenant to leave in order to accommodate a new or retiring employee had been rejected.
Katy Dickson, Policy Officer (Business and Property) at Scottish Land & Estates, said: “The Scottish Government has stated repeatedly that the aim is for a simpler tenancy which strikes a fair balance by offering tenants more security and giving landlords robust and comprehensive grounds so they have the confidence to let without fear of not being able to recover possession under reasonable circumstances.
“The drafted legislation went some way towards this balance point but disappointingly a number of amendments which were approved today will leave landlords dismayed that the new tenancy will bring the uncertainty and imbalance that they feared at the outset of the Bill.
“One of the main concerns for rural landlords is the rejection of Alex Johnstone’s amendment to allow a landlord to repossess a property in order to house a new employee or retired employee. This ground would come with a full notice period and prior notification at the outset of the lease so that security was not lessened on all let property. Without this ground the ability for rural businesses to grow is restricted and landlords may well choose to move property out of the long term letting market into a holiday home or decide to leave it empty. Frustration is growing at the Scottish Government’s continued lack of appreciation of the importance of this ground. The Housing Minister repeatedly stated that a family should not be moved out to allow an employee to move in but has failed to recognise that an employee often comes with a family. The fact that there is similar uncontested ground for religious workers adds further confusion as why can tenants’ security be lessened for religious workers but not farm workers?
“The Scottish Government made a surprising U-turn by proposing an amendment to remove the initial period when they had previously stated that this provided landlords and tenants with security. This was a disproportionate reaction to some campaign groups raising fears that it may be problematic for a limited number of people in difficult circumstances to be tied into a lease. Rather than having a protected period at the outset of the tenancy, tenants will now be vulnerable to be given notice from day one of a tenancy if the landlord can prove a ground is met, and likewise the landlord could suffer multiple short tenancies which will amount to unsustainable costs and losses.
“The Housing Minster stated that she thinks the grounds strike the balance and give landlords confidence to manage and repossess let property. The message we are getting from landlords is that they believe they will struggle to manage their properties effectively with this new legislation and their fears of lengthy and problematic repossession, even when reasonable grounds are met, have come true. Many are considering altering their acceptance of tenants perceived to be at all risky while others are contemplating their future in the letting rural homes which are often let at affordable rates.
“There was a real opportunity to get this new tenancy right. Landlords accepted that the ability to ask a tenant to leave without having to prove a ground had been met was not to be part of the new tenancy as they had been promised robust and comprehensive grounds. Now that their position has been further eroded, it appears that we will be left with a sector at risk which will put great pressure on social housing providers and reverse the good work which has developed in bringing empty homes back into use.
“We hope further amendments to address these issues will be lodged at stage three of the Bill and it is crucial that MSPs do not dismiss landlords concerns or the significant consequences of imbalanced legislation will soon be evident.”