Ellie Hutchinson discusses the need to establish a national forum for tenants living in rented private accommodation
Few could deny that when it comes to houses, homes and renting, there is an issue not just in Scotland, but across the Western world. With a shortage of supply and increasingly stretched local authority budgets, renting privately is often now the only long-term housing option for families and individuals.
Private landlords and letting agents are fairly well represented through industry bodies but we’re missing a crucial part of the private rented sector (PRS) puzzle – the voice of private tenants. At Shelter Scotland, we’re working to change that. We’re establishing a national private tenant’s forum to hear directly from folk who rent to ensure that the PRS is fit and fair for all.
As Jackie Murdo rightly blogged in June, "if you get people making decisions that affect them directly then you get happier, healthier tenants" – this applies not just to tenants in social housing, but to those renting privately as well.
Housing practice, law and policy is not the most accessible subject, and, as such, a huge and complex area – tenants may not know their rights, what the law says, or they may believe that poor-quality housing is normal.
The time is right to establish a national tenant’s forumEllie Hutchinson
They may also feel that if they challenge their landlord, they’ll be at risk of eviction, or if they publically share bad practice, they’ll be on the wrong side of a legal challenge.
This fear is not completely without ground. Whilst there are many great landlords out there, there are many who operate well below good practice. Whilst the PRS makes up 13% of Scotland’s households, in 2014 46% of calls to our national helpline were in relation to private tenancies (these are also some of reasons for Shelter Scotland’s Make Renting Right campaign.)
The time is right to establish a national tenant’s forum. The sector has doubled in the last ten years, and changes to legislation are afoot. But with so many people renting privately, there is no single view of renting. Students, older people, people with disabilities, newly arrived immigrants, young families, individuals – they all have different perspectives and needs.
The challenge then for us in establishing a national forum, is not only to ensure that tenants feel confident to voice their rights, but that we hear from a wide variety of voices.
Whether we’re talking about disability rights and adaptions, student lets, or family homes, we want to facilitate a space for tenants to come together and find creative solutions. As with any participation project, we’re hoping much of this will come from tenants themselves. In the next few years we’ll be building relationships, capacity and knowledge, so that private tenants themselves can directly feed into what the PRS of the future will look like. We’ll be meeting every few months in Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling, and, in the autumn, we’ll be launching an online forum to share information and to host discussions.
People who rent privately should be able to take part in decisions that impact on their lives, their communities and their homes. Good-quality housing is a basic human right, and it’s a right that Shelter Scotland continues to campaign for.
If you’d like to take part then go to our forum pages and sign up here.