The Private Rented Housing (Scotland) Act 2011 places a duty on private landlords to provide new tenants with a Tenant Information Pack (TIP). Scottish Ministers were given powers to make regulations to specify the documents to be provided to tenants under an assured tenancy. A stakeholder working group involving key public sector, consumer and professional bodies considered options for the form and content of a TIP and developed a draft pack.
The Scottish Government wished to seek views on the draft TIP and consulted with tenants, landlords, agents and others in focus groups, in-depth interviews and a written consultation. This report provides an analysis of the views expressed.
3 focus groups were run with tenants, student tenants and small landlords. In-depth telephone interviews were conducted with 5 larger landlords and 5 private letting agents. 80 responses to the written consultation were received. 67 responses (84%) were from organisations, and 13 (16%) were submitted by individuals. A summary of all respondents' views on the key issues follows.
Information about the tenancy
There was broad support for the inclusion within the TIP of information on the type of tenancy although views were mixed on whether the TIP should restrict information to the type of tenancy relevant to the recipient (usually a short assured tenancy). Including details of tenancy types other than that held by the tenant was envisaged as creating confusion.
The inclusion of reference to the AT5 form was well received, with some calling for more information on its purpose.
The bulleted, checklist style format of the section on Tenancy Agreement received praise particularly from tenants who considered the section useful in alerting them to what to expect from landlords and how to assess whether a landlord is meeting requirements.
There was much support for the inclusion in the TIP of information on ending a tenancy. However, calls were made for improvements in the clarity of this section, in particular to highlight that different tenancy agreements may stipulate different arrangements for ending tenancies.
Some written respondents suggested that further work is required before the TIP achieves an acceptable balance between being accessible and simple, yet also conveying accurate, legal information.
Information about the property
Majority support was expressed for the inclusion in the TIP of information on gas and electrical safety; the Energy Performance Certificate; Council tax information; permitted level of occupancy; Repairing Standard; and inventories. It was felt that this information will be of particular help to make tenants aware of property standards and safeguards. There were mixed views on whether information on testing electrical appliances should be included considering that this is not a legislative requirement. Inclusion of a separate section on the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) received little support. The prevailing view was that information on condition and safety of the electrical installation in the property should be restricted to safety certificates and recommended dates for re-testing. A need for greater clarity on what is within scope of "portable electrical appliances" was called for.
Students in particular welcomed the information on Council tax as some had experienced difficulties in accessing clear information about this previously. A re-focus to tenants' needs and simplification of the information on permitted level of occupancy were called for to make the information more useful. Tenants in particular welcomed the inclusion of information on the Repairing Standard as the issue of speed of repairs had emerged as problematic for many over the previous year.
The information on inventories was broadly welcomed, with an acknowledgement that this will need to be updated to accommodate the latest information on tenant deposit schemes. More emphasis was requested on the importance of the tenant checking the inventory along with the landlord, particularly in light of the introduction of these schemes.
Student tenants requested that the TIP include a section on personal safety encompassing communal door entry systems, hallways, lighting and conditions of locks. Large landlords, however, felt that this was generally outwith their remit and more a responsibility of the tenant.
A recurring recommendation was for the TIP to cover fire safety issues, including the location of fire safety equipment and fire escape routes, more comprehensively. Another common safety recommendation was for the inclusion of more information on carbon monoxide detectors.
Information about the landlord
There were mixed views on the inclusion of landlord registration information in the TIP. Whereas students and other tenants felt that this would help them to identify if their landlord is registered, landlords and agents were anxious that landlord registration databases should be kept up-to-date and be easy to search. Some respondents argued that this information duplicated that in the lease.
Information was requested on what tenants should do if they find their landlord is not registered.
There were mixed views on whether information about HMO licenses should appear in the TIP. Whilst the balance of views favoured its inclusion, some felt that it should be provided only for those tenants living in such properties.
A prevalent recommendation amongst written respondents was for the contact details of landlord and agent to be included in the TIP. Emergency contact numbers for approved contractors were also commonly requested.
Rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords
The information on rights and responsibilities was welcomed as bringing together in one place, simple information on what is expected from tenants and landlords.
Some expressed concern about what they perceived to be the overlap of information with that contained in the lease, and it was recommended that this be addressed by referencing the lease for more specific information. Many suggestions were made for minor amendments to the list of tenants' and landlords' responsibilities.
There was general agreement that the information on harassment and unlawful eviction is useful and will help tenants to identify if their landlord is acting unlawfully.
Although antisocial behaviour had not been experienced as a major issue for respondents, it was considered important to retain this section. A key theme was to place stress on the importance of maintaining good relations with neighbours and trying to resolve differences informally.
Key contacts for help and advice
A common view was that the usefulness of the contact information could be enhanced by inserting details on the reason for making contact. Some recommended re-ordering the list of contacts to make it more topic-focused and logical. One recurring request was for the provision to be made for customising the pack to include local contacts.
Some agents recommended that more emphasis be placed on the role of the landlord as the first point of call rather than resorting immediately to wider contacts.
Presentation of the pack
The pack was widely praised for what was perceived to be its clear layout, use of headings and sub-headings and bite size information. Most considered that the pack struck a good balance between providing robust information yet not overburdening landlord or tenant with complex information.
The document was welcomed as being largely in plain English and avoiding legal jargon. However, it was suggested that the drafting could be tightened in places to make it more accessible.
Views were mixed on the preferred order of the sections. One recurring view was that the information on rights and responsibilities should be placed further towards the start of the document. Others considered the order of sections should follow the logical "journey" of the tenant, from pre-tenancy to ending the tenancy.
Whilst there was general agreement on the need for the pack to be provided in alternative formats, many viewed this provision as the responsibility of the Scottish Government.
The pack was viewed as fulfilling the purpose of providing consistent and reliable reference information for tenants. Other purposes were highlighted including exposing rogue landlords and improving the relationship between landlord and tenant.
The notion of a TIP was welcomed by tenants as appearing to be user-friendly and useful; small landlords, however, perceived the notion of a "pack" to be daunting.
Landlords and agents requested clarity on the extent to which they would be permitted to tailor the pack to avoid duplication with the lease, remove what they perceived to be unnecessary details, and to insert local information.
Operation of the pack
The majority of those who commented argued for the pack to be available in hard copy form, backed up with access to an online version, probably held on the Scottish Government website. Landlords and agents reported being used to providing information online and did not consider that the distribution of the TIP in this manner would create too much of an additional burden for them.
The main benefits of hosting the pack on the Scottish Government website were seen as: information will be managed well; updating will be carried out promptly; information will be presented consistently across locations and landlords; and landlords will be less likely to issue out of date information. A few respondents recommended that a bespoke web portal be developed to host the pack and supporting information and advice documents.
Many respondents queried how landlords and tenants will be informed about newer versions of the pack and updates. It was commented that parts of the draft pack are already out of date.
Views were divided on whether the pack should be provided in advance of signing a lease. Providing the pack beforehand was seen as advantageous in giving the tenant informed choice about property and landlord standards. However, providing the pack to prospective tenants who may or may not take on the tenancy was viewed by landlords as potentially expensive. Clarity was requested on references within the TIP to timing of the distribution of the pack.
With only a few exceptions, participants in focus groups and interviews preferred to have a hard copy signature from tenants to confirm that the TIP has been received. Concerns were raised by some of the written respondents regarding the proposal for email confirmation of receipt by tenants. One key disadvantage was seen as the burden on landlords and agents faced with chasing up confirmation which had not been submitted. Amongst suggestions made to address this potential problem were replacing the need to confirm receipt with the need to confirm issue of the pack by landlords and agents.
A recurring theme was that on-going publicity will be needed to advertise the pack and the legal requirement for providing this. Some written respondents sought details on how the scheme will be enforced and what the penalty will be for not providing the pack. It was suggested that tenants need guidance on what action to take if they are not provided with a pack.
Email: Alix Rosenberg