Business leader interview: John Blackwood
John Blackwood is chief executive of the Scottish Association of Landlords (SAL). Here, he talks about the issues facing the private rental sector – and why it’s vital for landlords to keep abreast of changing laws
Hello John, what are the everyday challenges that you encounter?
I think the main challenge is embracing new legislation. Our job is to make sure landlords are fully aware of any new rules and regulations they need to follow to operate as a professional private landlord in Scotland. Our members – we have just over 2,500 – are responsible landlords who want to improve the lettings business. However, there are other landlords out there who are not as responsible and it’s our job to raise awareness, not only in how we can support them, but to encourage legislators – politicians in particular – that we need more enforcement of the sector to improve it. Therefore, we need to ensure that landlords who don’t comply are taken to task.
How do landlord laws differ in Scotland to those imposed south of the border?
We have more stringent standards in Scotland regarding fire safety regulations, especially in private housing. For example, private landlords have a requirement to install smoke alarms in the living area and halls of a property and a heat detector in the kitchen. All alarms must be mains-wired and interconnected. For a one-bed flat in Scotland, a heat detector and two smoke alarms are required and, quite often, it’s a challenge getting landlords to understand the complexity of the legislation.
On the subject of fires, what can landlords in Scotland learn from London’s Grenfell Tower tragedy?
I think this is more an issue for landlords in high-rise tower blocks. However, there is a lesson here for all landlords to prioritise the importance of fire safety in residential accommodation. In the wake of the Grenfell tragedy, the Scottish Government is planning to address this issue and there are already a range of measures in place. We’re delighted that the private rental sector in Scotland has a higher standard of fire and electrical safety. Likewise, I’m pleased to say that the Scottish Government has published a new consultation that will extend the existing requirements of the private rental sector to all social housing in Scotland. We’ve been campaigning for that for some time to ensure safety across all housing tenures.
What would you say SAL’s relationship is like with the electrical sector?
Developing strong partnerships and working relationships with organisations such as SELECT is so important to us. We’ve worked together to make landlords aware of appropriate, enforceable legislation to ensure electrical safety in people’s homes.
And how could SAL’s relationship with the electrical sector be improved?
It would be nice to work together on more publicity campaigns. Our job is to keep our members informed and updated regarding change. But the onus is not solely on landlords; it’s also important for tenants to know more about electrical safety. If tenants don’t see that something’s wrong, it’s not an issue for them. They don’t become as concerned as they should be about making sure, for example electrical checks are carried out on their property. So we need to raise public awareness of the importance of general electrical safety in the home.
Since December 2015, landlords have been required to conduct five-yearly checks of fixed wiring and electric appliances in privately rented homes. How have landlords responded to this?
We’ve been advising landlords of their legal responsibilities and they’ve been keen to find out more. One area we’re focusing on is advising landlords where to find appropriate, qualified and registered engineers to carry out the checks – and enforcing the message that only qualified engineers should be used. This can be challenging in Scotland; some landlords find it difficult to find qualified electricians to carry out checks, especially in remote areas.
How has this sector changed over the last decade? And how do you see things from a long-term point of view?
There has been more focused and targeted legislation in the private rental sector to improve both standards of service and quality of accommodation. In the last decade the private rental sector has doubled – and we expect that growth to continue as the pressure to house Scotland’s people mounts. In the future, the private rented sector will have to house more people than before. Therefore, it’s important to make sure the quality of accommodation meets the needs of those individuals. The sector is more professional now than ever before, but we’ve still got a long way to go.
What kind of training do you provide for landlords?
We have a sister organisation, Landlord Accreditation Scotland, that provides training for landlords and letting agents. We run a variety of courses, informing them of their legal obligations – and fire and electrical safety is covered extensively as part of that programme. The courses are well attended – we provide training to more than 2,000 delegates a year throughout Scotland.
And finally, if you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about the industry, what would that be?
For me, I suppose, it’s not so much about waving a magic wand. My aim as chief executive of SAL is to ensure professionalism in the private rented sector in Scotland, ensuring that the private rented sector is a well functioning and sustainable housing option for the future – a sector that’s able to safely house Scotland’s people. That’s my vision.
John on SELECT
“We’re always keen to work with like-minded organisations where appropriate on selective campaigns to get our message across. Therefore, we've always been keen to work with SELECT to achieve that in the private rental sector. Our aim is to signpost our members to find electricians who are SELECT members. We often refer landlords to the SELECT website so they can find an electrician in their area.”