Spiralling private rents ‘don’t tell the full story’

Photo: John Devlin
Photo: John Devlin

As rents in Scotland’s private rented sector spiral, Govan Law Centre (GLC) has warned that the story beneath the increase is “stark and deeply worrying” and will lead to more homelessness and poverty.

While official Scottish Government statistics have shown that rents in Glasgow’s private rented sector (PRS) have risen more than anywhere else in Scotland, GLC said the figures mask unlawful and unfair exploitation of vulnerable tenants.

Casework from the law centre’s Citywide Private Rented Sector service in Glasgow reveals how many private landlords aren’t following the legal protections in place for rent increases.

GLC said some tenants end up paying for the repairs their landlords are obliged by law to carry out. Many vulnerable tenants are being pushed into financial hardship and misery, and being forced to live below “the breadline” and rely on foodbanks to make ends meet, it added.

In Glasgow, private rents have been hiked up by almost one third between 2010 and 2018 (31.13 per cent) – almost double the rate of inflation (the consumer price index rose by a total of 18.7 per cent over the last eight years).

GLC’s PRS co-ordinator, Wendy Malloy, said: “We can evidence that rent increases being implemented during lets are having a serious impact on household financial sustainability, and increasing the risk of homelessness.

“A lot of the time these increases are being done without proper legal notice being served and with tenants simply accepting they have to pay.

“We are seeing many households struggle with arrears and we are providing legal advice and representation in these circumstances.

“We believe this highlights the need to get the message out to people that there is a formal process in place for increasing rents and mechanisms to appeal should the tenant disagree with the proposed increase. Always seek free advice from your local law centre or advice agency.”

GLC’s principal solicitor Mike Dailly added: “One of our clients is a disabled single parent whose landlord increased her rent by 43 per cent during one month to £1,500 p.m. The housing benefit ‘local housing allowance’ was only £800 p.m.

Other clients already struggling to make up housing benefit shortfalls have been trying to cope with rent increases of around £100 p.m. Tenants can apply for discretionary housing payments to help, but these are generally temporary. In practice, many tenants are meeting rent hikes by using their social security money for food and heating costs.

“There is clearly a need for greater public awareness that rent hikes require formal written notice and must comply with certain legal procedures to be valid.”

Mr Dailly continued: “There is always a right to appeal, although the law on market rents tends to favour private landlords. Govan Law Centre believes the private rented sector remains largely unregulated and in practice is too often a free-for-all for landlords out to squeeze as much money as they can from a tenant with limited options.

“For low income tenants there is no consumer choice or genuine market competition in this sector. We believe there is a case for national regulation – there is no national regulation at present unlike for the social rented sector.

“There is a need for a ‘living rent’ in this dysfunctional market, and strengthening the rights of private sector tenants in Scotland. The present system is unsustainable and is costing the taxpayer in terms of the social, human, and medical problems it creates.”