Housing is a human right

Everyone deserves safe, warm and affordable housing and protection from unjust rent increases, discrimination and unfair eviction, says Lorna Slater.

Thanks to the efforts of the Living Rent campaign, I was involved in the last-minute reprieve of a West Lothian constituent with a disabled son last week.

Lors, from Livingston, was set to lose her home on Wednesday, despite accommodation which meets her disabled son’s needs not being available for three weeks. You may remember she was set to be evicted just days before Christmas before we managed to get the Scottish Government to introduce an eviction ban, but now that areas are moving into level two restrictions evictions are back on the table.

For Lors, the suitable accommodation is still weeks away from being ready. Still, the landlord saw fit to evict this vulnerable family anyway.

After appealing directly to tribunal, this eviction was mercifully delayed, but it shows the need for the eviction ban to be extended.

This family would have been evicted last week if it wasn’t for the intervention of Living Rent, and I was delighted to join Hannah Bardell to support that effort. The fact their landlord was ready to kick this family out of their home during COVID restrictions and before suitable alternative accommodation was ready shows why we need more legal protections for tenants.

It is unacceptable to evict people from their homes during this crisis. That’s why I called for the eviction ban to be extended in parliament, so situations like this would not arise.

Housing is a human right, and if landlords cannot respect that it needs to be embedded in legal processes.

But if the last 16 months have taught us anything, it is that the old ways of doing things is broken. The pandemic has exposed huge gaps in the UK’s social security safety net, and how laws do not offer enough protections for ordinary people.

Last summer a coronavirus loan fund for private tenants was created only after external pressure was placed on the Scottish Government, long after the Scottish Association of Landlords had secured a landlord loan fund. That showed that Scotland still lags behind many continental European countries in tenants’ rights, while politicians continue to instinctively protect propertied interests rather than the interests of tenants.

We need a new deal for tenants, because the fact is renting in Scotland is expensive and insecure, while for many it is impossible to save enough to buy.

Everyone deserves safe, warm and affordable housing and protection from unjust rent increases, discrimination and unfair eviction. But Scottish Government policies aimed at controlling eye-watering rent rises – like Rent Pressure Zones and Mid-Market Rents – have failed.

It is time to stand up for the human right to a home. That means having a new regulator for the private rented sector that can investigate tenants’ complaints, promoting tenant’s unions like they have in Sweden, and ending unfair evictions by making sure all grounds for eviction are discretionary.

And ultimately, we need robust rent controls to ensure everyone can afford a roof over their heads.

This is not about saying all tenants are good and all landlords are bad. It is about recognising that the system we have drives people into poverty and allows vulnerable people like Lors to be threatened with losing her home during a pandemic.