Activist Guide: Rented Housing

In the second of our activist guides, we look at the burning issue of rented housing. With rents spiraling ever upwards and people from all walks of life facing exploitation, it's more important than ever that you know your rights and exercise them. We spoke to Living Rent, Scotland's tenants union, who lay out exactly what you're entitled to....

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Even the most politically engaged among us can get stung when it comes to rented housing and moving into a new place. We're taught to sign a contract and report any issues, and we know fine well that rents are too high across the board thanks to our unregulated profit-driven housing market, but how many of us are aware of our legal rights? And what options are available for tenants who want to take action?

First of all, it's important to break down exactly what your rights are when you move into a property:

Rent, deposit and fees

Rent: Your landlord will set the amount of rent to be paid before your tenancy agreement begins. The rate of rent, what it covers and when it is due should be stated in your tenancy agreement.

Deposit: Landlords and letting agents can ask for the equivalent of up to two months rent for a deposit. Within 30 working days of your tenancy beginning the landlord must notify you that they have held your deposit in one of three approved tenancy deposit schemes in Scotland.

At the end of your tenancy, your landlord will apply to the deposit scheme to return the deposit. The deposit scheme will contact you to see if you agree with any deductions the landlord has taken from your deposit. If you disagree, you can apply to the dispute resolution process. If your deposit is not protected, you have the right to sue your landlord up to three times the deposit paid by raising an action in the Sheriff Court.

When you move out of your home it will be expected that it is left in roughly the same condition as when you move in, minus reasonable wear and tear. At the beginning of a tenancy it is good practice for a landlord to provide an inventory outlining the condition and contents of your home. You should make sure this is completed accurately and even take pictures of any problems you identify. This evidence can be useful later if there are any disputes regarding the deposit.

Fees: Letting agency charges, for things like administration fees, or reference checks, are illegal in Scotland. Anything a  letting agency charges you above your rent and deposit is an illegal premium and you have the right to claim this back by raising a simple procedure action in the Sheriff Court.

CASE STUDY Harry is a student in Glasgow who moved into the first suitable flat share he found after a stressful hunt. He was aware his deposit had to be held in an approved scheme, but didn't check on this when he didn't hear back from his landlord. He says: "I didn't really ask because you just assume landlords know what they're doing."
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Eviction

If your landlord asks you to leave, it is important to remember you have rights and your landlord cannot simply throw you out of your home overnight. Your rights will depend on whether you live with your landlord and the type of tenancy you have. If you have been asked to leave by your landlord, you should get advice from a housing adviser immediately. They can check your tenancy agreement and inform you about your rights and whether or not your eviction is illegal.

Illegal Eviction and Harrassment

If your landlord tries to force you to leave your home without following the correct procedures, it is a criminal offence. This would include if your landlord attempted to make life in your home so uncomfortable that you were forced to leave. You can
report incidents to the police. Illegal eviction or harassment is a criminal offence under Section 22 of the Rent (Scotland) Act 1984. It is a good idea to quote this to the police if reporting an incident.

If your landlord wants access to your home, they must give you 24 hours notice minimum in writing. The landlord must exercise this right reasonably. If the landlord does anything which interferes with your peace and comfort or withdraws or withholds services which are needed in your home, this is also a criminal offence under the Rent (Scotland) Act 1984. If you are concerned about harassment you should speak to a
housing adviser.

CASE STUDY A group of students based in Glasgow, who do not wish to be named, had various disputes with a landlord. His reponse was to walk into the flat to confront them without giving sufficient notice. On one occasion, after refusing to leave, they phoned the police. The landlord was told he was in the wrong and a written agreement was signed allowing the tenants to move out the flat at a suitable time. One of the tenants said: "It caused such anxiety, but we knew we were in the right. We're happy to have moved on, but don't want to see it to happen to others."

Housing Conditions

Your landlord has a responsibility to ensure your home meets the Repairing Standard. This sets out the minimum legal physical requirements your home must meet. This includes that the property must be wind and water tight and must be fit for
you to live in.

Confronting a problem in housing conditions, you should report any repairs to your landlord. If your landlord fails to carry out the necessary changes, you can then apply to the First Tier Tribunal Service. If your housing conditions are affecting your health you can ask your local authority's environmental health department for help. They can help you get repairs done and in extreme cases serve your landlord with an abatement notice ordering them to carry out repairs within a specific period of time.

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CASE STUDY Linda, who lives with a young son, had to fight with her fighting association for 18 months over a mouse infestion in her flat. Living Rent met with representatives of the housing association and managed to secure a short term solution for her. She told CommonSpace: "I had to flee my flat in the middle of the night as I woke up to find mice crawling over my bed and on the bedside table next to my son’s head."

Where can I get advice?

Shelter Scotland
Citizens Advice Scotland
Living Rent

And what is Living Rent?

Living Rent is Scotland's tenants union. They believe in the collective power of
tenants to come together to fight for their rights, and use diverse tactics -
including direct action when necessary - to achieve this. They are not affiliated
to any political party, but recognise the importance of influencing parties, politicians and holding them to account. 

How do I join?

You can sign up here as a member (if you are a tenant) or as a supporter (if you are not) for whatever amount you feel comfortable paying. 

The best way to improve your lot as a tenant is to work for the advancement of all private tenants, by getting involved in Living Rent. Help put pressure on politicians, landlords and letting agents to make the system fairer. The stronger our union, the better it will be for tenants across Scotland. 

@living_rent