A RENT Freeze will be introduced in Scotland after emergency legislation was passed in Holyrood.

The Scottish Government measures will set a maximum permitted rate increase on rents for private tenancies, social housing and Purpose Build Student Accommodation (PBSA).

The cap rate will be set at 0%, meaning landlords cannot raise rents above this. A six-month moratorium on evictions will also be put in place. 

However, if landlords can prove property costs have risen, they can increase rents by 3% – provided the rise is less than 50% of the jump in property costs.

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Who will benefit?

Two million people living in rented housing will have their rents capped for at least six months in response to the cost of living crisis, with the possibility of being extended further. 

Campaigners said the bill is a "huge relief" but called for further action, and for rent controls to be kept on the agenda. 

What is the Government saying?

Housing secretary Shona Robison, SNP MSP, and tenant's rights minister Patrick Harvie, Scottish Greens MSP, sponsored the legislation through the Scottish Parliament as it was moved at an accelerated pace.

Stage one proceedings were heard and agreed on Tuesday and on Wednesday opposition MSPs lodged 101 attempted revisions to the legislation, but only a small number passed with government support.

Speaking during the final stage of the proceedings on Thursday, Robison told the chamber: "There is a recognition that excessive rates are not acceptable and there is a recognition that tenants are struggling right now.

"Engagement with stakeholders as we developed this bill has been vital and will continue to be to do so through the coming months.

"Working in partnership I know we can realise our shared aim to stabilise rent costs and keep people in their homes at a really difficult time.

"The primary purpose of this bill is to provide the necessary protection for tenants during the current cost of living crisis and is groundbreaking in the way that it achieves that.

"The bill before us also recognises that some landlords can be impacted by the cost of living crisis and we need to recognise that to create robust and workable legislation."

The National: Robison said the legislation is 'groundbreaking'Robison said the legislation is 'groundbreaking'

Meanwhile, Harvie said that although the bill is temporary and only offers protections until April 1, rent controls are still on the Government's agenda and work is underway.

"Close to my heart"

The Scottish Greens MSPs said he had a "lump in his throat" as he closed the final stage of the debate and noted it was the first bill from a Greens minister working within the Scottish Government.

He said: "This is a bill that is close to my heart.

"It's an illustration of how much we can achieve by delivering on that collaborative approach to government."

The Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Bill passed with 89 votes for yes and 27 for no.

Speaking to The National in Holyrood after the bill passed said that he was "delighted".

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"There’s going to be so many aspects of this that will make people’s lives better in the rented sector and we know that so many people are being handed 10, 20, 30% increases or more, this bill will stop that," he said.

Revisions were made to the legislation to allow landlords to apply to raise rents in very specific circumstances, such as to sell the property to alleviate financial hardship, which would need to be accompanied by an affidavit. 

Harvie explained: "Some landlords are big, wealthy profitable businesses, others are just an individual who may be facing their own cost of living pressures as well. 

"So we’ve had to make sure that it balances the interests of both but fundamental this will achieve a huge amount of protection for people against unaffordable rent increases and make sure that people can’t be evicted in order to just jack up the rent and get a new tenant in."

Finding "balance"

Responding to criticism that landlords were included in the provisions and that in certain circumstances could raise rents Harvie said striking the balance was one of the most important issue the government "grappled with" while creating the legislation.

He said: "Because it is an emergency bill it has to be justified by the current circumstances, it has to be temporary, so how do we move out of it?

"If the economic circumstances change you don’t want to have a cliff edge and see rents going up massively across Scotland.

"So what we’re doing is including powers to change rent adjudication, that's an existing system that allows people to challenge an excessive rent increase, but it doesn’t work as well as it needs to and in fact, many people don’t feel confident enough to use that system.

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"So we’re taking the powers to change that system to make sure that it provides a good bridge out of this temporary emergency rent freeze if and when the circumstances arise that we have to make that change."

Ariane Burgess, the Scottish Greens housing spokesperson, added: “These are the most progressive set of tenants’ rights anywhere in the UK and are attracting attention from other nations across Europe as they look to react to the ongoing economic challenges for the hardest hit in the face of winter.

“It has been a remarkable effort from activists, representative organisations and politicians to seize the moment amid ever-mounting economic crisis to ensure these provisions have been put in place."

Rents have been continually rising across Scotland, with a 10% increase on average over the last year, rising to 16% for a two-bed flat in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Longer term, rents have increased by over 60% in Edinburgh and Glasgow over the past decade. 

How campaigners have reacted

Meg Bishop, a spokesperson for Living Rent said: “The rent freeze is a huge relief for tenants and is badly needed. Over the last year, landlords have poured petrol on the cost of living crisis by increasing rents on top of already soaring energy bills and other costs. 

"The rent freeze will go a long way to ensuring that tenants are not made to pay for the economic crisis and ensure that tenants do not need to worry about increasing rents and being evicted this winter on top of all the other uncertainties.

"When the situation is so uncertain, this is exactly what strong leadership by a government looks like, finding ways of helping those who need it most.

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"Though a huge win, rents before the freeze were completely unaffordable. This rent freeze is a great emergency response, and will need to stay in place until the Scottish government brings in proper rent controls to push rents down.

"Nevertheless, the passage of the bill shows the incredible power that people have when they get organised, and fight for their essential needs.”

Sally Thomas, chief executive of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA), said: “SFHA, and our members, have worked incredibly hard this week to highlight to the Scottish Government and opposition parties, why a rent freeze in the social housing sector is unnecessary and, indeed, likely to be counterproductive. We were glad to hear MSPs of all parties highlighting the vital work of our members and calling for a more proportionate approach.  

“We will continue to make the case as to why this legislation must not continue after 31 March 2023. A rent freeze beyond this date would threaten our members’ ability to build, improve and maintain existing homes and deliver vital support services to tenants.

“In the months ahead, we will work constructively with the Scottish Government, and other stakeholders, so that we do not see the damaging longer-term consequences of a rent freeze occur. We are keen to find solutions that work for tenants, social landlords and the Government.”