The bill to reform Scotland's private rented housing laws has been supported in principle by the Holyrood committee examining it at stage 1, but with a series of recommended amendments.
In its report on the Private Housing Tenancies (Scotland) Bill, the Infrastructure & Capital Investment Committee says it considers that the Scottish Government has largely achieved a balance between the interests of landlords and tenants, but that "legitimate issues" have been raised in evidence that should be looked at with a view to amendment.
- that ministers give further consideration to the balance between mandatory and discretionary grounds for removing a tenant;
- that they look at options for allowing purpose built student accommodation to set tenancies for agreed terms;
- that they consider a longer period to repay rent arrears;
- that they consider whether penalties to deter landlords from terminating tenancies falsely are sufficient; and
- amendments to allow those in abusive relationships to leave a tenancy without facing financial penalties.
The committee accepts the Government's view that the short assured tenancy, which has become the dominant form of tenancy, does not accurately reflect the current requirements of the sector. However it believes there should be a further look at the flexibility available over length of tenancy, especially where domestic abuse is present, so that victims can leave a tenancy without facing financial penalties.
Special consideration should also be given to the position of student and holiday lets, to encourage their provision. A uniform private residential tenancy may not be appropriate in all situations.
With one dissenter (Alex Johnstone MSP), the committee agrees that the no-fault ground for ending a tenancy should be removed, under the principle that no tenant should be removed from their home without good reason. To balance this, it considers that the new grounds to allow landlords to recover their properties must be robust enough to give confidence to those already in the sector and those considering investment that landlords can regain possession of their properties if there is a good reason.
It says it is "still uncertain" as to the flexibility given to tribunals in decision making when a ground is deemed mandatory. "Given the nature of some of the grounds for repossession being based on the failures of landlords in the management of their properties, the committee is also drawn to the tribunal being able to show some degree of reasonableness in its decisions."
The MSPs accept that it could be more difficult to remove tenants for antisocial behaviour without the no-fault ground. They believe there is a need for a fair and proper process to be put in place for all grounds for repossession, but want to ensure that these work in practice, and call for all the grounds for repossession to be reviewed post-implementation in case they prove ineffectual or impractical in practice, or have unintended consequences.
For rent arrears, the committee recommends that ministers give further consideration to lengthening the three month period allowed in the bill to pay off a one-month arrears.
It also calls for clarification of the support which will be available to those wishing to access the First-tier Tribunal when it begins to hear housing cases, and specifically whether legal aid will be available.
As for rent increases, the MSPs support the approach of the bill, but in relation to the proposed rent pressure zones, where local authorities might intervene if they consider rents are risning too fast, the committee "would welcome more information on why the Scottish Government considers the measures are necessary given that it is looking to increase supply".
Committee convener Jim Eadie MSP said: "The Scottish Government has sought to introduce a bill that strikes an appropriate balance between the rights of tenants and the rights of landlords, taking account of changes to the housing market and housing provision in recent times.
“It is the committee’s view that this balance has been largely achieved. However we call on the Government to consider amendments at the stage 2 process to ensure that the end result is one which takes in to account the legitimate issues raised in our evidence taking sessions."