ON Tuesday, the Scottish Government announced that it would introduce a rent freeze across social and private housing as well as an eviction moratorium, effective immediately. Though there remain big unanswered questions, these two measures are undoubtedly a huge win for our union and a massive relief for thousands of tenants across Scotland.

The need

SINCE the onset of the pandemic, our union has been demanding that the Government freeze rents to ­recognise the dire effect that ­initially the job losses of lockdown, and later the resulting economic fallout and cost of living crisis, have had on low and middle-income people across the country.

In Scotland in the last decade, rents have soared by more than 60% in both ­Edinburgh and Glasgow while wages have remained stagnant or decreased in real terms. Over the last year, as ­inflation has skyrocketed and our energy bills ­emptied our bank balances, this has only gotten worse.

Despite the cost of living crisis, ­landlords have taken this opportunity to hike up tenants’ rent by an average of 10% across Scotland, 16% in Edinburgh and 14% in Glasgow, all in the last year. This is on top of 60% of private homes failing energy standards (EPC D or ­below) and thus threatening to put more and more tenants in fuel poverty.


But these averages mask the issue. In many instances, landlords were using the crisis as an excuse to hike up some of our members’ rents by 40-50%. In one ­particularly memorable case, our ­member was served a rent increase of just under 30% which amounted to an ­increase of £200 a month. As she put it, having to find an extra £200 a month or be forced to leave her home and community of nine years was absolutely “terrifying”.

On top of that, after she began to ­contest the increase, she was handed an eviction notice that would force her out just eight days before Christmas Day. As she put it at the time: “The rent increase and eviction notice mean I am not able to plan anything, and with the cost of living ­crisis, everything is hitting me at once. I am trying to keep it together for my daughter so she does not get anxious and worried about having to leave her school and her friends.”

HER story demonstrates how landlords have hiked up rents forcing tenants unable to pay to leave their homes – often so that the landlord can charge increased rent to a tenant who is able to pay or convert the property into a holiday let to escape legislation.

These “silent evictions” showcase the rental market in its truest, cruellest form and demonstrate how the profits of ­landlords have been entrenched in our housing market over the wellbeing and welfare of tenants for far too long.

The National: The Scottish Government recently announced a rent freeze as well as a moratorium on winter evictions The Scottish Government recently announced a rent freeze as well as a moratorium on winter evictions

Though energy and many of the other issues that have been driving the cost of living crisis are outside the powers of the Scottish Government, housing is a ­devolved power. And as Living Rent members have consistently pointed out to their MSPs, the annual cost of rent is far higher than even the worst ­predictions of the cost of energy. So as the crisis ­continued to go from bad to worse, the Scottish Government had no reason for inaction on addressing rising rents or the threat of eviction.

The rent freeze and eviction ban, which work hand in hand (ie: landlords cannot evict a tenant to raise rents), are therefore incredible steps in the right direction for tenants’ rights across Scotland and offer a beacon of hope for those pushing for a rent freeze south of the Border.

Though the freeze was announced in the chambers of Holyrood, this win was the result of years of organising among ­thousands of members who have ­campaigned tirelessly on the streets of our towns and cities, in our community halls and in meetings with MSPs.

How we did it

SINCE 2014, Living Rent has been demanding the reintroduction of rent controls, scrapped by Thatcher in the 1980s, and building a union capable of forcing the government to do it.

When we started, rent controls were seen as taboo, or at least a bygone ­concept, relegated to the shelves of ­history. We brought them back into the political ­conversation, bit by bit: at doors, at stalls, in the press, by meeting with MSPs or speaking to ministers and ­answering public consultations.

We created an appetite for them, ­busted all the landlords’ myths and went back to the simple reality: housing is not just a commodity or a means for profit, it’s a ­fundamental human right.

Over time, there became widespread and overwhelming support for rent ­controls across Scotland. This shift in perspective, alongside ongoing pressure and local fights, has meant that political parties have finally started to understand that if they want to speak to the majority of their constituency, they should tackle soaring rents.

In 2016, we had hope as the SNP passed a resolution at their annual ­conference in favour of a national system of rent ­controls. However, later that year, instead of proper rent controls, the ­Scottish Government introduced “rent pressure zones”, which it claimed would allow local authorities to ensure affordable rents. We warned at the time that rent pressure zones (RPZs) would be ineffective and fail to tackle both rising rents and poor quality standards. Sure enough, six years on, RPZs have been impossible for any council to implement anywhere.

But in these six years, Living Rent has been growing and organising. Day by day, we have built up branches in ­communities and neighbourhoods and recruited ­members in every city in ­Scotland. The union is not only focused on ­parliamentary lobbying – we are ­primarily focused on building up ­working class power in neighbourhoods and ­communities that have the ability to force their politicians to take them ­seriously.

In our branches, our “member defence teams” have stopped evictions, forced ­repairs and won huge compensation from landlords, all the while, growing the ­union.

Our work has also seen us push for ­retrofits, for better public services and building links in ­communities. Alongside a focus on grassroots ­militancy, the union has also secured dramatic legislative victories: ­including the abolition of

no-fault evictions and ­insecure short-assured tenancies, a sweeping set of new limits on holiday lets and a hard-won ban on evictions during Covid.

So over the years, we have proven that legislative changes not only are possible, but also they make a massive difference to tenants.

Crucially, though, these ­legislative ­victories were not achieved by ­conciliation and compromise, but by ­uncompromising demands from the ­union, confident that its legitimacy comes from the mass of ­tenants it represents, not the glossy ­reports it publishes.

In 2021, the Scottish Parliamentary elections led to a “co-operation deal” ­between the SNP and the Scottish Greens. Their co-operation agreement included a crystal-clear commitment to rent controls, which we see as testament to our ongoing organising, alongside the work of multiple organisations.

The same process of organising in ­communities and building power to ­support our demands has been true of winning the rent freeze. We’ve been ­demanding the government freeze our rents since the onset of the pandemic, ­especially in the social and public ­sector. Bit by bit, through the work of our ­members, we have created an appetite for it. And in the past six months, we’ve been collecting testimonies about rent hikes, supporting people to fight against the increases they are threatened with and outlining to politicians how much of an explosive situation this is going to lead to given the cost of living crisis.

The National: Landlords’ opposition to rent controls was labelled as being ‘disconnected from reality’ by Living RentLandlords’ opposition to rent controls was labelled as being ‘disconnected from reality’ by Living Rent

It helped that, though rent controls and a rent freeze are both radical interventions, the need for them is obvious to the thousands of tenants across Scotland. Living Rent’s success has been to take that support and channel it into action.

With both rent controls and the rent freeze, we continue to have vital as yet unanswered questions about the details. In the case of rent controls, though the coalition agreement recognised the need for controls in a failing housing market, it has not proposed introducing them until the end of the parliamentary term which could be as late as 2025. So we’ll ­continue asking: what are we to do in the meantime? And what’s the actual, ­practical timeline for rent controls’ ­implementation?

In the case of the rent freeze and ­eviction ban, though it is a step in the right direction and will provide ­immediate ­relief that tenants so ­desperately need, our members and tenants across ­Scotland worry that the rent freeze will not ­impact social housing tenants whose rent ­increases in April. Social and council tenants are in just as much need of a rent freeze as inflation and energy bills ­continue to climb.

There also remain questions about whether the bill takes into account landlords increasing rents between tenancies, or specific situations such as joint tenancies changeover, students in purpose-built accommodation or people who pay rent and energy bills combined. It is also ­unclear how the rent freeze will ­impact tenants who have already been handed a rent increase notice but are yet to see their rent increase.

All these questions need answers, and they are answers that Living Rent ­members will be demanding of their ­politicians to ensure that the freeze has the impact that the politicians have ­promised.

Furthermore, though the freeze is an ­incredibly welcome move, it has still ­frozen rents at completely ­unaffordable levels. Going forward, we need the rent controls that the Government has ­promised us to bring rents down. The “points-based” system that we ­propose would also tie the amount a ­landlord could charge to the quality of the ­property, forcing them to make the ­repairs and improvements that Scotland’s housing so desperately needs.

The pushback

WE have already seen pushback from landlords regarding the Government’s latest announcement and we know that the pushback against rent controls will be even bigger.

Landlords consistently threaten to leave the sector if regulation is increased, but a quick glance across Europe is enough to dismiss this: the most heavily regulated private rented sectors (PRS) are ­consistently the biggest. Germany, with the biggest PRS in Europe (on average 40% and rising to 70% in cities), is easily one of the most heavily regulated and the majority of the stock is owned by small private landlords. Scotland, by contrast, only has 14% of ­tenants living in the ­private rented sector. In Germany, ­landlords are in favour of the rent ­regulation system.

A huge portion of the income landlords receive from their properties comes not in the form of rental income, but income from capital gains – the value of the ­properties themselves increasing. With house prices predicted to continue to ­spiral, any reduction in rental income would have a negligible impact on the profits of landlords.

But perhaps most importantly, the ­properties these landlords are ­currently renting out already exist. Unless these landlords left these properties ­abandoned, leaving the sector wouldn’t ­impact on supply at all. The bricks and mortar will not vanish.

We also know that there isn’t much ­evidence that rent controls are that bad for supply or, perhaps more importantly, that our current system is any good for it. The rapid growth in the PRS has come at the expense of other tenures (former ­council or owner-occupied ­properties ­being ­converted to private rented flats), not as a result of new builds. UK ­Government statistics from a few years ago had the number of new PRS flats coming from new builds at less than one in 10.

THERE is, though, a reason that the supply argument is pushed so hard by developers and landlords – it’s an opportunity for them to make a lot of money. This is partly through land banking – where developers buy land, often receive planning permission, but then never use that permission and sell the land on years later. There aren’t great estimates for the amount of this going on in Scotland, but it’s reasonable to assume it isn’t massively different to down south – where more than 400,000 homes with planning permission remain unbuilt by developers.

Another – perhaps more concerning – reason the supply argument is the one ­favoured by developers and landlords is because it skirts around the issues of power, control and regulation. They know that if we simply build loads more private flats, without changing any of the patterns of ownership or usage, it will mean a huge windfall for them.

If the new builds are publicly owned, that’s another question – but the industry lobbyists who push for this aren’t ­usually proposing that. We would love more genuinely affordable social and ­council housing to be built and have always ­campaigned for that. We believe such housing comes from properly funded council and housing associations.

Lastly – and this is crucial – it is ­important for all housing to be similarly regulated and there should be no ­loopholes, ­whether short-term lets or purpose-built student accommodation, in order to achieve people’s right to housing.

Next steps

NOT only will Living Rent continue to push the Government to ensure that when rent controls are introduced, they bring rents down, but we will continue to organise around issues that matter to our members.

As well as rent controls, we need to fix our broken homes. More than 71% of homes are in some state of disrepair and more than half of homes have disrepair to critical elements. As our energy bills continue to increase, huge numbers of tenants will be pushed into fuel poverty.

With more than half of PRS flats on ­Energy Performance Certificate rating D, one of the lowest ratings, too many ­private ­tenants risk being in fuel ­poverty. ­Retrofitting these homes with adequate insulation and more energy-saving ­measures would not only lower energy bills while ensuring warmer homes, it would also go some way in tackling the country’s carbon emissions, 20% of which come from buildings.

We will be supporting our members to fight for retrofits across social and private homes and for all the other improvements that they need. We need a system that ­prioritises people and our planet over profits and we’re building a union to make that a reality.