LAST week the Housing and Property Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland made its first ever award in an unlawful eviction case. The Tribunal ordered a private-sector landlord to pay £18,000 in damages after evicting a tenant from his home without a court order.

The tenant was a man in his 60s who had resided in his flat in Govan for a few years without any difficulty until he lost his job and got into financial difficulty. One day before Christmas he entered his close to discover all his worldly possessions sitting in seven cardboard boxes. His landlord’s son and friend were in the process of changing his locks.

He managed to contact the police and two cops arrived at the scene but didn’t attempt to stop the unlawful eviction despite the fact he was living there, it was his home and the landlord had no legal authority to change his locks. The police told him to give his keys back to the landlord.

Later that evening he had to sleep in the Glasgow Winter Night Shelter before securing temporary homeless accommodation from Glasgow City Council. After moving to the south-east of the city, thankfully he went to Govanhill Law Centre on Coplaw Street and was represented by Laura Simpson, senior solicitor.

How are private landlords still getting away with this human indignity and criminal abuse in the 21st century? Historically in Scotland, evicting a tenant without due legal process – known as “ejection brevi manu” – was a civil wrong that gave rise to a right for damages. It only became a criminal offence in 1964 with the enactment of the Protection From Eviction Act.

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The 1964 Act only came about because of Rachmanism. The phrase was coined after the notorious slum landlord Peter Rachman who operated a criminal property empire in 1950s’ and 1960s’ London, where tenants were treated worse than cockroaches. Lock-change evictions were rife and common place. Rachman was so cunning he outsmarted the Kray twins when they tried to muscle in on his property empire, by giving them a nightclub.

The statutory protections against unlawful eviction and harassment of residential occupiers in Scotland are now contained in the Rent (Scotland) Act 1984 and the Housing (Scotland) Act 1988. We’ve made great advances on paper, but you can count on one hand the number of reported court or tribunal cases in Scotland where tenants have been awarded damages for unlawful eviction and harassment. More worryingly, the number of criminal prosecutions for illegal evictions is less.

More than a decade ago, Govan Law Centre published a report titled “It’s a Civil Matter”. We did so because so many of our clients had complained to the police about being threatened with unlawful eviction. They were being bullied and harassed by their private landlords, yet were wrongly told this was only a civil matter by the police.

What has changed in all of that time? Last week’s case was a fantastic result for the tenant, but how come those acting on behalf of the landlord weren’t charged under the Rent (Scotland) Act 1984? Why weren’t they prosecuted when the police themselves were witness to the crime?! It’s astonishing this failure to grapple with criminal behaviour continues 56 years after the passing of the legislation that outlawed it.

My colleagues and I see these unlawful evictions all too often in Glasgow. They are rife across Scotland too. Cases where a mum goes to drop her kids off at school to return home to find the locks to her home changed by a landlord. In such cases the police act as bystanders and often think a notice to quit is sufficient in Scots law, or if someone is in rent arrears then that’s that.

In last week’s case where £18,000 damages were awarded the landlord sought to argue the tenant agreed to vacate his home, despite the fact he had consulted the police beforehand as he was fearful his landlord was going to carry out an unlawful eviction.

Last week, the Scottish Government announced it would introduce a new licensing system to regulate Airbnb lets across Scotland. This is to be welcomed, but, as always, the devil will be in the details.

We have a form of licensing for the private rented sector. It’s called the private landlord registration scheme. It’s operated by local councils, but the Scottish Government has a national landlord register. All good, but it’s the lightest of light-touch regulatory regimes. It would be a pity if the new Airbnb scheme was as insubstantial.

It’s time for the Scottish Government to prioritise this area of human misery. Airbnb legislation is all very well, but there is a herd of elephants in the room. It needs sorted.