Scotland’s private tenants launch national union to ‘counter landlord lobby’
Run for and by tenants, Living Rent will provide support for renters and campaign for better housing in Scotland. Tenants say the union will act as a counter-balance to landlords’ industry bodies that have been dominating the housing debate in Scotland, and provide advice and support for individual renters.
The union has been endorsed by journalist Lesley Riddoch and housing expert Professor Douglas Robertson, while Andy Wightman MSP has lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament to congratulate Living Rent on its launch.
The union aims to represent private rented sector tenants in a housing market that has seen rapid decrease in house ownership and socially rented housing. According to the Scottish Household Survey, 14 per cent of Scots now turn to the private sector to find a home, but struggle with unaffordable rent levels, insecurity and poor housing conditions.
Living Rent follows in the footsteps of established tenants unions in European countries like Sweden, where tenants’ membership organisations represent thousands of renters’ interests in national policy making as well as individual housing disputes.
Living Rent has evolved from the success of the ‘Living Rent Campaign’, which saw tenants across Scotland campaign for rent controls and security of tenure.
Membership in Scotland’s tenants’ union starts at £3 per month, and is available to everyone renting their home, whether in the private or state sector. Dues will be used to campaign locally and nationally, as well as going towards a hardship fund for members.
The union will be led by a democratically elected board, with a national conference as its ultimate decision-making body.
Liz Ely, acting chair of Living Rent, said: “Right now, too many landlords can get away with charging rip off rents for poor quality housing, and tenants are paying the price. The private rented sector is regulated like it’s just another business venture, but the reality is that hundreds and thousands of Scots rely on private landlords to keep a roof over their heads. We need real rent controls, proper regulations and representation for tenants.
“Over the past two years, we’ve heard countless stories of tenants struggling with sky-high rents, unsafe housing conditions, and illegal evictions. It doesn’t have to be this way - in many European countries, large, active tenants’ unions provide support to their members and negotiate housing policy at the local and national level.
“Housing isn’t a luxury good but a basic necessity - without strong safeguards and balanced policy-making, tenants will continue to struggle in a housing market that puts the interests of private profit first. Living Rent will work to make sure that every tenant in Scotland has a safe, affordable and secure home to go to.”
Lesley Riddoch, journalist, said: “It’s good to see the campaign for a living rent because without it the living wage is next to meaningless. Private renting is no longer a temporary phase of life for students, young people and folk on the move – it’s become a permanent and very expensive destination for tens of thousands of Scots.
“This Scottish tenants union is a great idea - borrowed from Sweden - which means tenants can help protect one another from the worst excesses of the worst landlords. It’s the start of a more level playing field in the private rented sector and that should benefit everyone.”
Douglas Robertson, Professor of Housing at the University of Stirling and member of the Scottish Government Private Rented Sector Strategy Group, added: “In all tenancy matters a strong and vigorous private tenants association - as is common throughout Europe, given the higher proportion of such rented properties - is a critical component.
“Having tenancy rights defined in law is all well and good, but they can only function if people have the confidence to use them. A strong democratic tenants’ body is critical to ensuring such confidence.”