Thursday, 27 August 2015

In rooting out slum private landlords, Glasgow needs contingency plans to accommodate displaced occupiers in Govanhill

A £9.3m ‘buy-out’ scheme that will bring substandard private rented sector housing into social ownership in Glasgow's Govanhill was discussed on STV Glasgow last night by Govanhill Law Centre's Senior Solicitor, Rachel Moon, and Anne Lear, Director of Govanhill Housing Association. Govanhill Law Centre (GhLC) is part of GLC.

The Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council initiative is part of a two year program whereby funds will be used to buy around 80 properties through Govanhill Housing Association. Initial stages have been to build a team of staff to investigate who is living in the properties, and public meetings have been held at some of the worst addresses to gauge the interest of landlords in selling to the housing association.

When asked about criticisms that the scheme would miss the main people it was trying to target without compulsory purchase powers, Ms Lear advised that whilst they were trying to go along the route of voluntary sales in the first instance, the council had confirmed that compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) was not ‘off the table’. The issue of using CPOs was the first case GhLC took on when it launched on 19 November 2008 in Govanhill on behalf of the then Leader of Glasgow City Council, recognising the need to tackle substandard housing in private landlord ownership. 

GLC welcomes the public money to be spent in Govanhill. All too many private landlords in the area act with impunity and exploit vulnerable residents. However, GLC believes provision must be made for those existing tenants and residents. Many of the properties targeted are in a state of disrepair, and overcrowded and existing occupiers will be displaced by the buy-out. 

Many displaced residents will have to apply for alternative accommodation through applying for a housing association property (many of whom have long waiting lists) and many will be forced to present as homeless for emergency accommodation. In the long term, hopefully there will be more sustainable and more suitable housing for the most vulnerable families in the community, but the short term consequences should not be ignored in GLC's view.  

It is understood Govanhill Housing Association share these concerns, and Govanhill Law Centre looks forward to working with the Association and other stakeholders to bring about a contingency strategy for these tenants to make sure that they don’t slip through the net.

Glasgow City Council has applied for Govanhill to obtain ‘Enhanced Enforcement Area’ status. This would give the local authority greater powers to enter and take action against recalcitrant landlords. We support this. GLC hopes that all local organisations can work together to root out the slum private landlords in the area.

Tenants are subjected to extreme disrepair, infestation and lack of services and extortionate amounts are being paid to landlords. Letting agents exist which are not real organisations. Names are registered on the Private Landlord Register which bear no resemblance to the tenancy agreement. People are being illegally evicted in increasing numbers. It will take strategic and targeted action to make sure that these private landlords are rooted out. 

We are working closely with the police to ensure that those landlords and letting agents are brought to justice under the Rent (Scotland) Act and there are a number of cases which have been reported to the Procurator Fiscal in recent weeks after a targeted approach.
Despite the high levels of public investment through housing benefit, and the effect on communities and tenants health and employment opportunities, there is no effective regulatory body to act as a check on the Private Rented Sector in Scotland. This is why Govan Law Centre has called upon the Scottish Government to introduce legislation to create a national regulatory body with legal teeth to raise standards and prosecute landlords and letting agents who break the law.