Those of you following the case of one of Edinburgh’s worst landlords will know that he is appealing a Council decision to revoke his landlord registration license. This is ongoing, and the Council can not give us any more updates until the legal action is resolved. But, if any of you have the misfortune of being one of his tenants, it is well worth getting in touch with the Council’s private rented services department for some advice and support.
The Scottish government is drafting a new bill on renting and we want to make sure tenants voices are heard. We have collected thousands of consultation responses from all across Scotland and will be delivering them to the Scottish Parliament, but we want to make a scene that they can’t ignore.
Join us outside the Scottish Parliament to demand a Living Rent on Thursday, December 18th at 12:30pm
Help us get ready for the demo at the Protest Preparation Party on Wednesday 17th, 6-9pm, at the Tolcross Community Centre, in Edinburgh.
Bring placards, music, dolls houses, banners and friends. This is our chance to get a new deal for private renters in Scotland, let’s make sure we use it!
It is easy to find examples of how unjust this current system is. A family caring for elderly relatives, one with dementia, had only a matter of weeks to find a new home when their heartless letting agency decided to evict them. We can only imagine how stressful this was for them. Our members have stood up for their rights, only to receive a letter saying they are being evicted. In all these kinds of cases, tenants have no way to defend themselves.
The main problem with the current system is that you can be evicted very easily once the ‘minimum period’ (usually 6 months) of your lease is over. Your personal circumstances are irrelevant if it goes to court, and this is referred to in the consultation as the ‘no fault ground for repossession’. If successful, these new proposals would remove the ‘no fault’ ground, and security of tenure is likely to be greatly improved as a result.
Edinburgh Private Tenants Action Group, part of ACORN Scotland, has been involved in a Scottish Government tenancy review working group, and has helped inform many of these recommendations. We recognise the need for a modern, easier to understand, tenancy system. However we have also identified several problems with the Scottish Governments proposals.
The main one is with the new proposed ‘grounds’ for eviction. They propose that if a ground is proved to be breached, then eviction is mandatory. For example, rent arrears is a ‘mandatory’ ground. However, some tenants have problems paying the rent, due to wages being late, or delays with housing benefit payments. We believe being unable to pay the rent should not automatically mean eviction, and so we propose that a tenants circumstances are always taken into consideration.
The other problem relates to reducing the flexibility of tenants to move when they need to. It is often essential for tenants to be able to leave a tenancy for work, at the end of the academic year, or if a property is in a state of disrepair. We would therefore like to see security increased, but not at the expense of tenant’s flexibility.
EPTAG proposes that housing campaigners should work together on four main demands for a new tenancy system:
- The abolition of the ‘no fault’ ground for evictions
- No ‘mandatory grounds’ for evictions, including rent arrears
- Increasing security without reducing flexibility for tenants
- Introducing rent controls for affordable rents
Current housing policy is heavily skewed toward the interests of landlords, and this proposed new tenancy system makes some important steps towards safeguarding tenants rights. Landlords and their industry bodies are going to fight tooth and nail to water down these proposals, so housing campaigners need to be more united than ever in fighting for a better rental system.
We have been checking in regularly on Edinburgh’s most notorious criminal landlord, Mark Fortune, and have an update from the Council on the current legal situation. It seems that Fortune’s appeal will fail this month, and he will finally be banned.
Many of you will know that EPTAG was created by tenants of his, and we have been campaigning for decisive action against him for several years now. We are understandably very happy to hear that this is finally happening.
Councillor Gavin Barrie, head of the committee that regulates landlords in Edinburgh, tells us that:
The Council has attempted, but failed to serve papers on Mr Fortune in France re his appeal about having his landlord registration revoked. The Sheriff has accepted that the Council has done everything it can to serve these papers and the last chance to notify Mr Fortune will take place by posting a notice on the wall of the Sheriff Court.
We do not expect him to respond and his appeal against being banned as a Landlord will fail and the Council will be free to take action at his properties. The Council are currently trying to engage with residents in his properties but they appear to be very well briefed not to engage with Council Officers. Some evidence of wrongdoing is being offered by tenants who are quitting the properties of their own volition but unhelpfully these tenants are leaving the country which makes their evidence difficult to use.
Once the appeal has officially failed, around the end of the month, the Council will be able to speak to tenants in the sound knowledge that any hold Mr Fortune had over them will be finished. Where evidence can be gathered and substantiated the Council will take further action against Mark Fortune via the police and Procurator Fiscals Office.
So it sounds like the slow wheels of justice are finally catching up with Mr Fortune, and we look forward to him being unable to rent out property to tenants in the near future. A big thanks to the Council for finally getting this done.
If you have the misfortune to be one of his tenants, don’t be afraid to get in touch with the Council, they will support you should you wish to come forward to get help, or to give evidence of his malpractice.
Tenants in Aberdeen have successfully won a small claims action for a refund of letting agency fees charged before the Scottish Government issued a clarification of the law against such fees in 2012. This decision is a very positive sign, and is likely to empower more tenants to take their letting agencies to court.
The Court heard that in 2009, Aberdeen Property Leasing had charged the tenants an administration fee of £125, in addition to the rent and deposit. The letting agency tried to argue that before the legal clarification made by the Scottish Government in 2012, such administration fees were legal, and that only fees charged after that date were prohibited.
The tenants, who were representing themselves, argued that the 1984 Rent Scotland Act clearly states that it is illegal for a landlord or letting agent to charge tenants any fees in addition to their rent and deposit, and therefore such fees were illegal even before the clarification. The Sheriff agreed with them. This new judgement published today may mean that letting agents in Scotland can no longer rely on this excuse.
In the judgement, Sheriff Lewis stated: “In my opinion the definition was not changed – it was improved to make it crystal clear to all involved in residential leasing that administration fees ought not to have been imposed and ought not to be imposed.
“I have concluded that the administration fee imposed by the defender was a prohibited payment and accordingly the pursuers are entitled to the return of it. ”
Sheriff Lewis decided that the the Rent Scotland Act 1984 makes it clear that the charging of administration fees is illegal, and that the clarification made by the Scottish Government in 2012 does not change that fact.
While decisions in a Sheriff Court do not create legal precedents, and so this does not necessarily mean that every Sheriff will make the same judgement, this kind of ruling should give confidence to tenants who have yet to claim back their illegal fees, even ones that were charged several years ago.
This a clear victory for private tenants who have been ripped off by illegal fees, and EPTAG would encourage any tenants who have not done so already, to write to their letting agency, and request a refund. If you have proof such as a receipt or bank statement, you can claim back fees from up to 6 years ago.
Private Tenants Scotland and EPTAG are currently supporting a dozen tenants to claim back fees they have been illegally charged, so if you need any tips or advice, get in touch. Or better still, join us and become part of Scotland’s private tenants movement.
A UN Special Rapporteur who visited the UK in 2013 to assess whether residents have access to adequate housing has described conditions in the private rented sector as a “housing crisis”. Although the UK Government invited planning expert Raquel Rolnik to carry out the research, Ministers have since dismissed her report as a “misleading Marxist diatribe” and she has been subjected to xenophobic abuse in the right-wing press.
The full report, which is written in an accessible style and contains an excellent potted history of UK housing policy, can be downloaded from the UN website (downloads as .doc file). It covers a wide range of issues including the bedroom tax, social housing, and provision for gypsies and travellers, but Rolnik also manages to make some important points about the private rented sector. If you don’t have time to read the whole thing yourself, the edited highlights (from a PRS perspective) are as follows:
Paragraph 24. The Special Rapporteur considers that the United Kingdom faces a critical situation in terms of availability, affordability and access to adequate housing, particularly in some geographic areas… The lack of housing “is not just a recessionary phenomenon: housing supply has failed to respond adequately to high levels of demand for decades”.
Paragraph 26. … [I]t is clear that social and affordable housing is especially scarce, waiting lists for social rental housing have grown, homelessness rates have increased, and the private rented sector has expanded to become the only option for many despite its insecure tenure. In April 2012, facing a waiting list that had grown by 81 per cent (since 1997) in England, councils noted that they would be compelled to use more private rentals, particularly to provide emergency accommodation. As many as 1.4 million properties — 35 per cent of the private rented sector — do not meet the Decent Homes Standard. In the Special Rapporteur’s view, this can be described as a housing crisis.
Paragraph 34. For many, private tenancy is the only option. However, there are significant problems, such as insecurity of tenure, poor management practices and discrimination against specific population groups by landlords and letting agents. In areas of high demand, like London, these problems can be severe. …
Paragraph 80. …[T]he Special Rapporteur wishes to make the following recommendations to the central Government and devolved administrations, as applicable:
…(g) Increase regulation and enhance information and accountability in relation to the private rented sector; adopt regulatory tenancy protections, including minimum length of contracts, restraints on rent increases and strict limits on eviction; encourage the use of standardized human rights-compliant rental contracts; enhance mechanisms of registration of landlords and letting agents, and establish clear accountability mechanisms to eliminate discrimination in the private rented sector;
EPTAG isn’t going to argue with any of that.
At our recent general meeting EPTAG agreed not only to assist in the create of a Scotland-wide private tenant’s organisation, Private Tenants Scotland, but also to join with ACORN Scotland, a broader community organisation based on principles similar to our own.
As private tenants we face many issues, not all of which are exclusive to ourselves. Whilst dodgy landlords and unscrupulous letting agents are exactly the sort of bread and butter issues that EPTAG is built to tackle, issues like rip-off energy prices, service cutbacks and safety on our streets are not the concerns of private tenants alone.
As part of our campaign we staged a successful protest on Monday 16th December to highlight Edinburgh City Council’s lack of action against criminal landlords.
Tenants assembled outside the City Chambers – all disguised as Mark Fortune – and delivered a letter asking council staff to clamp down on dodgy landlords, and to take greater steps to support and protect tenants. (Coverage of the protest in the Daily Record)
The notorious rogue landlord Mark Fortune was banned from renting out property in Edinburgh in February 2013, but he is appealing against the council’s decision and is allowed to continue acting as a landlord until the appeal process has been completed. Ten months later, the council have still not set a date for his appeal hearing. (more…)
In the Edinburgh Evening News today there is an article, featuring comments from EPTAG, about how renting privately in Edinburgh is becoming unaffordable for many people. (more…)
Ten months after Edinburgh City Council’s decision to ban Mark Fortune from renting out properties in the city, the millionaire landlord is still in business. Fortune is appealing the council’s decision, and this allows him to continue acting as a landlord until the appeal process has been completed. At the time of writing no date has been set for his appeal hearing. (more…)