Advice bureau tackles unrest over housing

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The number of complaints about private rental housing received by Shetland Citizens Advice Bureau has almost doubled in a year, with problems including tenants being given eviction notices.

CAB manager Sylvia Jamieson said a lot of the issues surround eviction from properties, with private sector tenants presenting a letter or eviction notice to leave their home, and questioning whether the document was correct or legal.

The majority of cases were illegal evictions, she said. This, she explained, was due to a number of reasons including incorrect tenancy agree­ments, or no tenancy agreements whatsoever.

Ms Jamieson said they were hearing anecdotally from tenants that they heard the landlord was wanting to rent the property out for higher income business lets.

Asked if it was a case of landlords getting greedy, she said they were just taking advant­age of the market and the economy.

“Some of the figures will be from landlords on how to do things properly but unfortunately that’s in the minority,” Ms Jamieson said.

She said CAB was looking to speak with more landlords to offer advice. In 2012/13 financial year there were 76 issues around private rentals. In 2013/14 this had risen to 132.

Ms Jamieson said with the rental market being so high, it was also posing problems in terms of employers recruiting staff from south. “It’s becoming increasingly difficult for someone from south to find somewhere to stay,” she said.

Construction workers have even had to stay in their vehicles, Ms Jamieson added, and there was also the issue of where to house people if they faced eviction.

She explained CAB was the frontline service and was only postponing the problem until an eviction was made legal.

However, some folk wanted to be evicted, she said, in order to move from the private sector to the social sector market.

This could be because it is more affordable, it may be a chance to get a house in an area of choice, or it may offer a more secure tenancy.

Ms Jamieson said some tenants coming to the Citizens Advice Bureau, who have been asked to leave their tenancy, have been there a few months, others a few years.

Since January the rental market in Lerwick has soared. A one-bedroom flat in the town was available for £550 a month, but the going rate now is between £800 and £1,000 per month, according to executive housing manager at the SIC, Anita Jamieson.

She said they had seen an increase in the number of people looking for advice regarding being asked to leave a private tenancy.

“It has been very much in line with the economic boom and the increase in what people are prepared to pay for private lets,” she said.

Hjaltland Housing Association chief executive Bryan Leask said the increase in prices in the private rental market narrowed the choices available, and inevitably people rely on social housing to “fill that gap”.

People who had previously been able to rent privately were being “priced out”, he said.

The Hjaltland housing list stands at 600 people, added Mr Leask and is checked every six months. But the waiting list has not changed much in the last few years, as most people paying privately are already on the waiting list.

Hjatland had been involved in “a busy development” programme, Mr Leask said, including new accommodation at Fort Road, which is nearly finished, housing in Tingwall and homes in Burnbank, Lerwick under way.

If folk were asked to leave their private home, this could result in more people in a higher degree of housing need, he said.

Meanwhile, planning consultant Alan Farningham said a joint outline planning application by Shetland Leasing and Property Developments and Hjaltland Housing Associ­ation for a housing development at North Staney Hill, is to be submitted no later than the week beginning 19th May. Up to 250 houses could be built on the site, Mr Farningham said.

More than 50 people attended a day-long public consultation at Clickimin in March and organisers said the response was “very positive”.

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