Scottish private tenants still unaware of their new tenancy rights five years on

Trainers on doormat in home

RentBetter research released today by Indigo House shows that groundbreaking private tenancy reform in Scotland has not been enough to improve conditions for all private tenants.

Funded by the Nationwide Foundation, the research will help to inform solutions to issues faced by private tenants across the UK.

Private renting reforms introduced in Scotland from 2017 aimed to redress the power imbalance between landlords and tenants and to help more tenants assert their rights, ensure repairs were carried out and challenge unfair rent rises.

While tenants have been given more rights in legislation, the research found that many renters are still unaware of these rights and often don’t know if they have a private residential tenancy. The researchers at Indigo House called for landlords or letting agents to provide tenants with information about the key tenant and landlord rights and responsibilities at the start of each tenancy. The researchers recommended that this could be delivered in the form of an easy-to-read leaflet and verbal walkthrough for tenants.

The research found that when tenants accessed independent information and advice, this helped them to better understand and exercise their rights. But there was evidence of reduced provision in advice services over the last three years. The report called for an increase in early and ongoing information and advice services for private rented sector tenants.

Even when people understood their rights, Indigo House found that some low-income tenants were less likely to challenge their landlord for fear of consequences, since they have fewer housing options in the market than people earning higher incomes. Just four per cent of all applications to the Tribunal in 2019-20 were for repairs, despite the private rented sector having the worst conditions of all tenure types in Scotland. Although no-fault evictions ended in Scotland under the 2016 Act, the research team at Indigo House found some cases of people being evicted after taking successful repair cases to Tribunal. After succeeding, they were then given notice to leave on ‘sales’ or ‘family members moving in’ repossession grounds.

The research recommends extra government funding for local authorities and the Tribunal so that they can deliver targeted enforcement at the lower end of the market. The report also calls for a simplified First Tier Tribunal system (Housing and Property Chamber), with more resources and capacity to speed up case times and make the system more accessible for tenants and landlords.

Anna Evans, Director of Indigo House, said: “It was striking how the experience for lower-income tenants appears to be quite different to the general population of private renting tenants, most of whom we know are generally satisfied. For those where the experience is poor, understanding your rights and enforcement of those rights are critical. Many of the tenants we spoke to for this study didn’t know whether they were on the tenancy type with increased rights, or the old type. If renters don’t know that they have more rights, they can’t benefit from them. When they are used, advice services are very effective at supporting tenants to understand and assert their rights.”

Leigh Pearce, Chief Executive of the Nationwide Foundation, which funded the research, said, “The evidence from this report clearly shows that more needs to be done to support low-income private renters in Scotland so that they can benefit in practice from increased rights in legislation. Local councils and the Tribunal system should ensure that renters’ rights are upheld, but they need more capacity and resources to give renters greater access to justice. Private renting enforcement needs to target poor standards at the bottom of the market, where low-income tenants have less power to challenge landlords.”

The third and final wave of research findings from the RentBetter project is expected to be published in 2024. The full wave two report and executive summary can be read on the RentBetter website.