MIRELA and Andrew nicknamed their flat “the ice cube”.

The property was ­below 14 degrees for most of ­winter. The heating was never fixed. A leaking pipe in the kitchen caused ­water to pour through the light fixtures. The couple ­reported this in panic. The agency sent a decorator to paint over the damage.

Most young people, like the couple, have come to realise it is not likely they will ever be homeowners. In 2020, it was estimated only 7% of Scottish 25 to 34-year-olds could meet the earnings and savings ­requirements to be able to afford a home.

So they rent, in a criminally unregulated sector.

There has been a change in the distribution of ­properties since Margaret Thatcher put a ­sledgehammer through the housing sector created by Labour after the war. The rapid ballooning of the private rented sector has since run parallel with a ­decline in the proportion of households in social housing and owner occupation.

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Around the corner lies an equally damaging sledgehammer to housing. To avoid this one, ­evidence is being gathered by multiple foundations, ­organisations and unions. This is to provide both Westminster and Holyrood with proof of the dire mess created by lobbying groups, politicians and the speculative market, with the hope of taking a ­different route.

An estimate of 325,000 Scottish households are in the rental market. They have endured blow ­after blow while trying to find, secure and live in ­affordable and safe housing – a pandemic, the cost of living crisis, loopholes in short-term lets and a lack of action and implementation of policies, just to name a few.

Their headache is now caused by widespread rent increases, due to a lack of regulation.

In March, an investigation by The Ferret found low earners in Scotland could face paying more than half of their salary on rent. In the largest and most unaffordable market, median-priced flats in Edinburgh, rent could consume 58% of a local middle earner’s wage or 97% of a low earner’s wage.

Barbara Welsh, 43, works at the University of ­Glasgow and said her rent hike is affecting all aspects of her life. A significant hike came into play on ­August 1 for her home of 15 years in Partick, making it difficult for her to live in a reasonable radius of her workplace.

The National: Many tenants are demanding rent controlsMany tenants are demanding rent controls

“It’s very difficult for me personally as my job was made redundant last year,” she said. “I’ve been redeployed within the university, but it’s two grades lower than my substantive post was. After my pay protection stops, my salary will drop, and this is now putting a lot of pressure on what I do next.

“I suffer from anxiety and depression, and it does have a toll on my mental health. There needs to be more done by the Government to ensure there are rent controls, and affordable, secure housing is ­available.”

Welsh was pointed towards Living Rent, the only tenant’s union in Scotland, but decided not to go forward with action due to the immense time, effort, money and risk posed by the negotiations.

She explained: “I saw the information for Living Rent, and I thought, I really need to start protecting myself – but there are no negotiations now as I’m not in the ­position to move. It costs a lot to move and find ­somewhere and there are very few affordable options in this local area. It’s insane.

“It’s so frustrating as this really ­prevents me from getting on the property ladder. If you increase my rent by £200, that’s £200 I can’t save to buy.

“I had opened a saving account that’s meant to help you sustain a mortgage and that’s completely gone now. It’s all well and good for the Government to bring out schemes that are aimed to help people get on the property ladder but in reality, that isn’t the case for most individuals and families after these massive increases in costs.

“If your workplace is balloting for ­industrial action, please return your ­ballot. This is our country’s situation.”

The lack of regulation of the private rented sector is what ties together most, if not all the problems for tenants. On August 1, the Scottish Government did announce Edinburgh would be the first council area to introduce legislation requiring all short-term lets to obtain planning permission. Tenants in the Highlands eagerly anticipate a similar scheme.

Hopefully, this policy will be air-tight compared to current regulations within the private rented sector, and structures will be put in place to hold tenants and landlords to account.

Previously mentioned Mirela Vasileva is a student who also works part-time. She has been forced out of Edinburgh after encountering problem after problem with her letting agency.

Vasileva and her partner had no hot water for their 12-month tenancy and during winter they had to buy their own electric heaters. The property was below 14 degrees for most of the colder months. A leaking pipe in the kitchen meant water pouring through the light fixtures – this was not fixed or treated as an emergency when the couple reported it in panic. The agency instead sent a decorator to paint over the damage. The quote for a spare key was £80 to £100.

Vasileva describes her tenancy as a nightmare.

“It takes a lot of your mental ­strength to handle all of this,” she said. “They make you feel guilty for asking for it. Even if it’s not money – it’s your right to ask for ­repairs or compensation. If ­somebody had children and a full-time job, I can’t imagine them finding the time to get all of this done. It’s weekly meetings, it’s ­writing emails back and forth, long letters and having all of the details and evidence ready. It’s just a lot. It’s been a lot.”

Living Rent provided the couple with assistance to enter into a dispute with the letting agency. They were successful, and are to receive a 40% rental rebate, the full deposit plus compensation for the ­electric heaters they had to buy.

Mandatory Houses In Multiple ­Occupation (HMO) licensing applies to ­houses or flats occupied by three or more ­unrelated people, who share bathroom or kitchen facilities, under the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006, part five. Licensing helps ­ensure that accommodation is safe, well managed and of good quality. In essence, an inarguable piece of legislation. In ­reality, full of cracks.

Why would anyone put themselves in the position of breaking the law? Money. Non-HMO properties have cheaper rent. And, if a landlord won’t register their property as HMO, they are likely trying to avoid extra legal responsibilities and fees required as an HMO landlord.

All of this compromises both a tenant’s safety and a landlord’s credibility. The main culprit in this is the legislation, it is a flawed policy and must be revised to fit better with the sector’s trajectory.

The First-tier Tribunal service is a ­tenant’s last resort. Case management ­discussions, submissions of evidence, cross ­examinations and a final verdict are what face them during a multiple-month or longer ordeal. The system does not allow the merging of cases or taking into account other verdicts.

My own previous landlord had four tribunal cases against him at the same time.  The landlord made phone calls to witnesses we presented at our case-management discussion, and at the tribunal accepted that his behaviour on these calls was “poor”. These witnesses dropped out of the case. 

In 2019, I wrote to the tribunal: “As tenants in the lower position of power, we do not see it appropriate for us to be subject to this level of abuse and mistreatment from a landlord.”

I pointed to their failure to secure deposits as a pattern of behaviour and their actions as a landlord showed they were selective in the laws that they follow.

Since our case concluded, I have been contacted by three different sets of tenants of the same landlord and the behaviour we experienced continues in their properties after multiple tribunal cases, thousands of pounds in fines and reports to Glasgow City Council.

Hesitancy is being spoken of at the national level as well as local. Planning Democracy is a leading organisation in Scotland working with the Scottish Government to address the crisis. Clare Symonds, its chair and founder, believes the way to heal is by thinking outside of the current parameters.

Symonds spoke of the National ­Planning Framework (NPF4) – which sets out how our places and ­environments will be planned. Communities designed in the years to come will follow strong policies to prevent unsustainable ­developments and limit more complex issues such as speculation.

The document is expected to be ­written in a way that defends it from possible court challenges. Volume ­housebuilders challenged NPF3, the previous attempt at ­providing housing targets in a sustainable way. The housebuilders warped the data to override targets and, consequently, the framework did not deliver.

Symonds stated: “Trying to resolve the housing problem by approaching it as a single issue is not going to work. ­Neither is thinking that the solution to the ­multi-layered problem is just about ­building more houses and creating more home ownership. We need to ask: what would success look like?”

Symonds suggested success will be ­followed by a shift in perspective. She believes the Scottish Government needs to increase public spending on affordable housing with the aim of providing a home, rather than relying on private, expensive, low-quality units viewed as investments. However, this must all be done with the climate in mind.

Symonds said: “In the climate crisis, all housing needs to be adapted to cope with more extreme weather and to help mitigate ­further ­climate change by being ­massively more energy efficient and with construction ­becoming part of a circular economy. ­Reuse existing buildings because of the embodied energy and carbon in them and if that’s unworkable then reuse the materials.

“Part of the solution will lie in using the existing housing stock more ­effectively by encouraging the reuse of empty and underused properties. If we accept endless growth is not an option, we start to rethink how all resources – including ­housing – are distributed.”

The final draft of NPF4 is due to be published this month.

Meg Bishop, the national secretary of Living Rent, has been involved in the ­tenant’s union since 2018. In her eyes, the recent rent-control vote in the ­Scottish Parliament is an example of ­empty promises from politicians.

“Whenever there is an opportunity to put in policies to benefit renters, it’s very rare that they actually vote them forward,” she said. “I mean, we have a picture of the ­ex-housing minister Kevin Stewart saying ‘I’m for rent controls’ way back in 2015.

The National:

“They had an opportunity a few months ago to implement rent control that they promised when the SNP and Greens came into power. Everyone voted it down bar the Labour Party – so we tend to get a lot of lip service from the Government.”

Living Rent is a young organisation, made up mostly of volunteers who have taken on thousands of member defence cases and won the majority, as well as producing multiple reports on the ­housing crisis. At the moment, it is conducting a survey of members on rent increases.

Bishop believes, in essence, that ­Living Rent is the suitable, independent ­structure to represent tenants. She added: “I just wish we didn’t have to be used so often. It really is damning for the ­private rented sector that we’re needed as much as we are.”

It has become an organisation providing the research and data to change policy which, at times, is just too much.

“It’s in the interest of everyone to have an independent commission that looks into things like the price of rent and mediates and monitors the quality of housing, most of us are volunteers and we run on capacity,” Bishop said.

“No council has been able to implement a rent pressure zone because no council has been able to prove that rents are rising too much and causing hardship for tenants. No one is providing this research, so we’re trying to come to them with this data and say this is how serious it is getting.

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“Some of our members have reported increases of nearly 50%, which is just completely untenable. Our aim is to say: ‘Look at what your hesitancy is causing – the undue hardship of tenants that you know exists but cannot prove.’”

THE loopholes and problems with the system are abundant. The action is absent. These failures dictate the relationship tenants have with the private rented sector, landlords and government.

With this the reality for more tenants than the Scottish Government wants to admit, and the homeowner dream ­shattered, is this sector ­capable of holding “Generation Rent”? The cracks are visible in rent ­controls, tribunal proceedings, safety and equality. This is the beginning of the buckling.

The solutions being sought must be swift. Tenants are screaming from their rented rooftops as you read. A shift in perspective is needed to deconstruct, ­create, heal and flourish in this sector, to make sure a safe and affordable home is the ­priority, not an investment.