While the private rented sector keeps growing we must ensure it offers safe homes

A HOUSING Bill has been going through Holyrood recently, and we'll shortly have one final chance to improve it.

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My focus has been its impact on private rented housing and I've been using my website rentrights.org to seek people's views about the issues.

The private rented sector has grown fast in Scotland - it now accounts for one home in every five in Glasgow.

It used to be seen as "transitional" housing - maybe a first step away from the family home, or for students who wanted flexibility.

But things have changed, both during the years of growth and since the recession.

For an increasing number of people, owner-occupation is unaffordable, and social housing is unavailable.

That problem looks set to get worse over the next few years too.

We can't continue to treat private rented housing as just a matter of choice.

It's quite simply the only housing our society makes available to a great many people.

That leaves us with a responsibility to regulate it to make sure that people aren't being exploited or left in substandard conditions.

A landlord registration scheme came in nearly ten years ago, but beyond weeding out a tiny minority of the most exploitative landlords it hasn't achieved a great deal.

Deposit protection schemes have been introduced, but they can be slow and unclear for tenants, and some landlords find it easy to get around them.

The new Bill proposes a scheme of regulation for letting agents, with a Code of Practice and a tribunal system for complaints.

We don't yet know what the Code will contain. If the Government is bold, it could close down those loopholes and go much further.

We could keep rent levels under control - they have spiralled in some areas, even when interest rates have been low. We could ensure repairs are completed to a set timetable, with landlords forfeiting the rent otherwise.

We could eliminate discrimination against people on benefits, or on grounds of disability and immigration status.

We could tackle harassment and threats by dodgy landlords while supporting responsible ones to provide energy effic- iency improvements.

WE could give tenants the kind of secure leases that they'd enjoy in most other European countries.

I want to see far more housing built, especially social housing, and better use of empty homes too.

But while the private rented sector keeps growing we must make sure it offers safe, affordable and good quality homes for people left with no other choice.

So I'll be using the final day of debate on the Housing Bill to seek the changes which still need to be made.

If you'd like to receive updates on my work, subscribe to my news bulletin at rentrights.org

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