Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 17th March 2016.

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Photo of Margaret Burgess Margaret Burgess Scottish National Party

Rent arrears are an important issue for landlords and tenants and can ultimately make a landlord’s business unviable. Landlords need to be confident that in letting out their property they will receive the rent. Many landlords in the private rented sector are not large businesses who can weather cash-flow problems. If we make letting unviable, we will drive down supply and disadvantage all tenants in the longer term. Therefore, it is important to strike the right balance between meeting the needs of tenants who fall into arrears and need time to make them up, and those of landlords, who might have a mortgage to pay.

As David Stewart has said, I moved on the rent arrears ground at stage 2 when I lodged an amendment to allow a tenant to reduce their arrears until the day of the tribunal’s consideration. Members should remember that we are talking about rent arrears over a period of three consecutive months and until the case reaches the tribunal, so the arrears could be considerable. If the arrears are below one month’s rent when the case reaches the tribunal, the ground will be discretionary.

That approach is right for tenants and for landlords. We have made clear that when notices for rent arrears and eviction are issued, tenants must be advised of how to challenge the notice if they do not agree with it and of where to get help, with reducing their arrears for example. I worked in money advice for many years, and I think that the right approach is to prevent arrears from building up. In the private sector, two months’ rent arrears will be a considerable amount of money. We must work with tenants to ensure that they can pay off their arrears in small amounts and reduce the debt below a month’s rent, so that the tribunal can use its discretion.

That is right for tenants, and it is right for landlords, who need to get the rental income in. Therefore, I cannot support amendment 109. I genuinely believe that we have struck the right balance in the bill in relation to rent arrears and other grounds for repossession. I ask members not to support amendment 109.