By Ken Gibb, Director of the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence and Professor of Housing Economics at the University of Glasgow.

HOME ownership has been declining since the early 2000s (accelerating after 2008). There has also been a long-term reduction in social renting. The one area of growth in recent years has been a transformed private rental market. Market renting grew from five per cent in 2001 to nearly 15 per cent in 2016 (Scottish Household Survey). This is even stronger in our cities, among younger households and is in part attributable to the remarkable growth of the buy to let sector as individual investors sought returns in the face of very low interest rates elsewhere.

Private rented sector (PRS) reforms have now been with us for a year. They arose from concerns about the uncontrolled growth of the sector, worries about affordability and poor quality problems remaining in some places and, most of all, a tenancy structure favouring landlords. The Scottish Government approached reform in a balanced way: wanting to support good quality professional corporate investment and landlordism (the build to rent sector) but wishing to promote longer-term tenancies and re-balance the market. They also established the potential for a modest restriction on rent increases. At the same time, the UK Government raised the tax burden for buy to let landlords by reducing eligible tax deductions and setting higher taxes when buying property (replicated in Scotland). The Scottish reforms were supported by significant sections of the housing sector.

Parliament enacted the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016, introducing a new standard private residential tenancy that replaced short assured and assured tenancies. The tenancy applied to new lets from December 1 last year. This was part of three linked reforms.

First, by establishing the open-ended private residential tenancy this means that in order to end a tenancy, landlords must specify which of the 18 formal eviction grounds they are using. This contrasts with the previous short assured tenancy which lasted for a minimum of six months and could be ended by the landlord relatively easily at the end of the fixed term.

The second change involved the introduction of local rent pressure zones (RPZs). These must be evidenced by councils who then seek Government approval to limit rent increases within the defined RPZ. These are modest – they still allow “greater than inflation” rent increases and are time-limited.

The Scottish Government has also, thirdly, expanded the role of First Tier Tribunals – a housing court established in 2014, which has taken over rental market dispute resolution, including disputes relating to the new tenancy.

These are revolutionary changes and set Scotland apart from the rest of the UK (in England a recent consultation to create three-year tenancies was abandoned in the face of opposition).

What do we know after a year of the reforms? Not too much, to be honest. Prior to the reforms, average tenancy lengths were already rising. And there is also long-term evidence that poor families with children are increasing in the PRS. Despite this, the anecdotal evidence seems to be positive, but it will take at least a year of the new tenancies before data can be used to make the case to establish RPZs. It may well turn out to be difficult in most parts of Scotland to do so convincingly or have access to sufficient data. Unfortunately, we need more time and better access to data like landlord registers held by councils, as well as tribunal determinations in order to make sense of what is happening on the ground. There are welcome plans to research detailed tenant and landlord experiences of the new tenancy but these will need to be properly evaluated.