Private Sector Renters
Private sector renters - the law versus their reality
by Aoife Deery, CAS housing spokesperson, Social Justice team.
This article was first published in The Herald on 21 October 2023.
Last month the Scottish Parliament voted to extend the cap on rent increases and limitations on eviction in the private rented housing sector until March next year. This was the last time this piece of emergency law could be extended, and it’s critical that now we learn from tenants’ experiences during it.
We support the measures that were introduced. In the current cost of living crisis, prices of food and energy are going through the roof while incomes are falling, so any efforts to help people afford to stay in their home is welcome.
However, even with this law in place, the Citizens Advice network is still seeing clients seeking advice in cases that show us that big rent increases and evictions outside the rules are still happening.
This summer our client data across Scotland showed that the amount of advice given out about illegal evictions had increased by 42% over the previous year. Demand for advice in private sector rents meanwhile was up by 15%. Yet these are the two things the above law is supposed to have tackled. While it is positive that people know they can turn to us when they need help and advice, these numbers are still concerning.
We also know that rent rises and illegal eviction are often linked: in many of these cases, tenants have been unlawfully told to leave the property if they questioned the rent rise. One client told his CAB that his landlord had applied a 20% rent increase with just one month’s notice. Another asked her letting agent how her landlord was allowed to evict her in order for his daughter to live in the property, given this law, they told her (wrongly) that this was one of the allowed exemptions.
So, it appears that, despite the law being passed and now updated, illegal rent hikes and evictions are still happening. The problem seems to be that some landlords still don’t know their responsibilities, and some renters aren’t aware of their rights, and meanwhile enforcement and redress is still seen as difficult to access for many. The necessary speed with which this law was introduced could have meant that misunderstandings have arisen. However, there is no doubt that some landlords are deliberately trying to use a lack of awareness to raise rent or evict tenants, and this must be enforced against.
The human costs of this behaviour shouldn’t be forgotten. One CAB client – a new mother - was evicted because the landlord wanted to sell the property. The only flat she could find in her price range was on the other side of the city and she was distressed at having to leave the support network she’d made with other new mothers, as well as having to change her GP and being much further away from her work. The client saw her former property listed on Airbnb shortly after she left.
Our evidence strongly suggests that tenants and landlords must be made more aware of their rights and responsibilities. We’ll continue to play our part, helping people pick up the pieces when things go wrong. But this much needed law needs to be better explained and properly enforced so that the private rented sector becomes fairer for everyone.