Green Party MSP Patrick Harvie has led debates in the Scottish Parliament on deposit protection. Here – in his own words – he tells his personal story, explaining why he is so passionate about laws which protect tenants.
Other politicians who supported the legislation will share that disappointment, but more to the point so will the tenants left unprotected, and the responsible landlords who have made the effort to comply.I was deeply disappointed by the recent confirmation that legislation designed to protect tenants’ deposits has seen only around half of deposits lodged with an approved scheme.
Anyone who has rented (as I did for around ten years) knows that causing damage to the landlord’s property will risk losing their deposit. But the reality is that far too many people find that they run that same risk even when no damage is caused.
Landlords have a perfect right to make deposits a condition for taking on a new tenant, but a minority of landlords seem to consider the extra month or two’s rent as simply a perk of the trade.
Even making it difficult or time consuming to get a deposit repaid can cause real problems; few people who find themselves having to move to a new private rented home can afford to stump up another deposit while waiting months to get their old one back.
So it’s in the interests of tenants and responsible landlords alike that deposits should be kept safe and paid back to the tenant in good time.
During my years in the private rented sector, I saw really good practice from some landlords, but also exploitative and abusive behaviour from others. On one occasion, when I was harassed out of a flat by a particularly bad landlord, I was lucky enough to be able to fall back on my family for a place to go.
Not everyone has that support, and if my circumstances had been different I could easily have found myself not only homeless but being pursued for unfair debts.
It’s not always easy to tell the difference between decent and dodgy landlords or letting agents before you sign a lease, so tenants need to know that their rights are clear in the law, and that there is a simple and straightforward way of challenging bad practice.
In a recent debate at Holyrood I called on the Government to explain how they intend to enforce the law on deposits, and what else can be done to give tenants a bit more security and protection from exploitation.
Later this year we’re expecting to see another Housing Bill from the Government, to regulate letting agents. If we’re seeing 90% compliance with deposit schemes by then, all well and good. If we’re still closer to 50%, there’s clearly a need for stronger measures to ensure that the new system doesn’t just give protection on paper, but that it really changes practice throughout the sector.