Student leaders at St Andrews University have welcomed a new scheme which will help protect tenants’ deposits and have pledged to ensure that the legislation is enforced.
They have joined the housing charity, Shelter Scotland, and the National Union of Students in backing the compulsory initiative - it is free for landlords and letting agents - which will safeguard millions of pounds of tenants’ deposits.
It is designed to tackle the problem of withheld deposits. Under the Scotland-wide scheme, landlords and letting agents will have to hand over deposits to a government-approved third party. With more than 270,000 households renting from private landlords, about £75 million is expected to be transferred to the three approved bodies.
While landlords and letting agents in Fife have until next May to lodge all deposits, they can start doing so now. However, after October 2 they will be required by law to hand over all new deposits within 30 working days of a tenancy starting.
It is hoped the scheme will prevent agents holding on to money on false grounds.
Housing Minister Keith Brown said: ”Tenants in Fife will benefit from these new, historic regulations because they offer, for the first time, a fair, cost effective approach that safeguards tenancy deposits. The Scottish Government has estimated that between 8000 and 11,000 tenants across Scotland annually have £3.6 million of their deposits wrongly withheld.
“It is important to stress that the majority of Fife landlords behave responsibly. This legislation is aimed at tackling those who continue to tarnish the image of the private rented sector.”
Previously, tenants had to take legal action to try to recover deposit money, but the regulations give them access to a free independent dispute resolution service if the return of a deposit cannot be agreed.
Freddie fforde, president of the Students’ Association at St Andrews, said: ”The new scheme is a vital reminder to rogue landlords of their responsibilities. Many tenants enjoy excellent relations in this regard but others remain bullied and ignored.
“Students are among the most financially vulnerable groups affected by irresponsible practices, particularly in light of the cost of living in St Andrews, and will be reassured by the tenancy deposit scheme.
“It’s crucial that we recognise the compliant landlords who provide good services, but we must also be quick to recognise and punish those that don’t. The Students’ Association will be working hard to ensure that the new legislation is enforced. We will be pressing for the maximum penalties to those who disregard the rights of tenants.”
SafeDeposits Scotland, Letting Protection Service Scotland and Mydeposits Scotland will take deposits from landlords or their agents for safekeeping and provide information about the tenancy, the deposit and the scheme to the tenant.
Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, said:”We have been campaigning for this scheme for eight years, but it will only work properly if Fife tenants are diligent and know their rights and landlords and agents embrace the scheme fully.”
Robin Parker, president of NUS Scotland, added: ”We’ve worked for many years to get better protection for tenants in private flats and houses including, of course, the tens of thousands of students who live in the private rented sector.
“Too often we’ve heard of deposits being withheld or deducted unfairly by a few unscrupulous landlords. The tenancy deposit schemes launched should go a long way to putting an end to this.”