Will Scotland get rent controls?

Scotland’s controversial Green Party housing chief – who is part of a governing arrangement with Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party – has published details of his plans for rent controls.Patrick Harvie – who has the title Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights – says: “Now is the time to do more for people who rent their homes, whether they are renting privately, from the council or from a housing association. Delivering a new deal for tenants is central to our ambitions for a fairer Scotland, tackling child poverty and meeting climate change targets.“Above all else it will significantly improve the lives of Scotland’s tenants, giving them more stability, more choice over where they live and how they decorate their homes, and the confidence that their home will be of a high quality. At the same time it will recognise the interests of good quality, responsible landlords.  
“We will be working in partnership with landlords, letting agents, tenants and others to deliver this strategy, and we want to gather the broadest range of views. I would encourage anyone with an interest to respond to our consultation.”
The huge 108 page consultation document explains that Scotland already has stricter constraints on landlords increasing rents than any other part of the UK.The Private Residential Tenancy concept, which the then SNP-only Scottish Government introduced in December 2017, limited rent increases to once in 12 months, with a landlord required to give three months’ notice in advance of the increase; it also enabled tenants to challenge rent increases via adjudication by a Rent Officer; and it introduced the ability for local authorities to apply to Scottish Ministers to designate an area as being of Rent Pressure Zone status.The new consultation document has the recommendation that For private tenants seeking rent adjudication, we will change the legislation to only allow adjudications that either decrease or maintain it at the level proposed by the landlord.” By way of explanation, the consultation document sets out: “This action would allow people to challenge in-tenancy rent increases without fear that such action could result in an increase in rent beyond that being proposed by the landlord in the rent-increase notice. It would still balance the rights of landlords and tenants, as the rent that a landlord has fully considered and set themselves, could either be maintained or reduced.”

A further recommendation is that there should be, in principle, a national Scotland-wide system of rent controls rather than the Rent Pressure Zones that exist now. However, the document contains the controversial recommendation: “National rent controls only apply to the Private rented sector.” 

Details for the national rent controls are thin, even in the full 108-page document, but it says:

“Vision for future rent controls: Tenants pay affordable and reasonable rent for good quality homes, helping to support efforts to reduce poverty and improve outcomes for low income tenants and their families.

“Underlying principles for national rent controls:

• They will have an appropriate mechanism to allow local authorities to introduce local measures.

• They will be evidence based.

• Their design will support and encourage the private rented sector to improve the quality of rented properties.

• Policy development on rent control legislation will seek to learn from the processes already in place for social sector tenants in relation to rent levels.

• Policy will be developed taking into consideration the views of all stakeholders but with a particular focus on giving private tenants a stronger voice.”

The rest of the document includes proposals on:

– increasing penalties for illegal evictions and stronger enforcement;

– restricting evictions during winter;

– giving tenants greater flexibility to personalise their homes and keep pets;

– introducing a new Housing Standard to apply to all homes;

– establishing a private rented sector regulator to uphold these standards and ensure the system is fair for both landlords and tenants;

– setting minimum standards for energy efficiency, making homes cheaper to heat while contributing to Scotland’s climate change targets.

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