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Eviction - know your rights

by Aoife Deery, senior policy officer (Social Justice team).

This article was first published in the Herald on 17 October 2022.

If you’re a landlord or tenant in Scotland, do you know what the difference is between a legal and illegal eviction?  

When we think of illegal evictions, we often think of the worst scenarios: locks changed, people being physically removed and belongings thrown out onto the street. Very few illegal evictions are as dramatic as this, but this doesn’t mean they are any less distressing and damaging for the households involved. 

Last year, the Citizens Advice network in Scotland gave advice on more than 350 cases of illegal eviction. Most often this was in instances where tenants were not given the correct notice period (with many given a few weeks or less to move out) or the correct paperwork. Many people also sought advice after they left the property as they were under the impression they had to leave, even if they thought the grounds for eviction were wrong.  

To be clear, it is legal and fair to evict someone for genuine reasons, and indeed there are a multitude of reasons why a landlord may want or need to get their property back. That is rightly within the rules. In our experience, the majority of tenants do leave when served notice, and do not challenge the eviction, which they have the right to do. This did get more complicated during COVID restrictions with new temporary rules being put in place, which felt like the goalposts were moving every few months, and at times, different rules applied in different areas. However, despite some confusion, the principle of the COVID rules were in our view correct: to keep people safely at home to reduce the spread of the pandemic. 

The new measures announced recently by Scottish ministers in the Programme for Government to freeze rents (or more accurately, introduce a 0% rent cap) and bring in an immediate ban on evictions until the end of March next year can be seen to be a run-on of the COVID measures, with the cost of living emergency being the crisis that underpins it. We were pleased to see the bill include provisions to address illegal evictions, such as better compensation for victims (of between 3 and 36 months’ rent, depending on the circumstances), and an information sharing protocol with Police Scotland and the local authority if an illegal eviction is found to have happened.  

However, we also need to make sure that people know what an illegal eviction is and what to do if it happens. This is why we’ve been calling for the Scottish Government to work with other bodies to launch an awareness campaign covering the announced measures, as well as renting rights and responsibilities more generally. If this doesn’t happen quickly, it is likely that more illegal evictions will occur and go unchallenged while people are unsure of their rights, and homelessness will undoubtedly also increase as a result. 

Right now, tenants and landlords need stability more than anything else. We believe the measures announced by the Scottish Government are well intended, but we need to see how they will be put into practice. As I’ve said before in this column, good landlords provide a vital service and we do not want them to leave the market.