Leading the change on tenants rights and housing

This week’s Emergency Bill on rents and evictions will provide a vital lifeline for tenants and ensure that Scotland is leading the way on tenants rights says Ariane Burgess

Last month the First Minister published this year’s annual Programme for Government, which set out the Scottish Government’s main priorities for the year ahead.

This year, of course, the dominant theme was the cost crisis, which has seen people all over the UK being hit with soaring costs and skyrocketing bills.

It’s a crisis that few people escape, but, as ever, the hardest hit are the people on lowest incomes. That includes many people who rent their homes, whether from a social landlord or a private landlord.

The flagship announcement of this year’s Programme for Government was emergency legislation for a rent freeze and to significantly ramp up protection against eviction.

The Bill to do this was published today and will go through Parliament this week.

The Bill covers four main areas

•     A freeze on rents within tenancies until at least 31 March

•     Suspending the carrying out of new eviction actions until that date as well

•     A new system to make it easier for tenants to challenge unlawful evictions and tougher sanctions for landlords who do this

•     Powers for Ministers to reform the way tenants can challenge rent rises in the private rented sector, as a bridge out of the period after the freeze.

Together, I believe that these measures will significantly strengthen the position of tenants in these harsh times.

But it isn’t enough for new laws just to be right in principle. They have to be right in practice too.

There is no value in legislating in ways that make you feel good if the legislation can’t survive parliamentary scrutiny or be robust against legal challenge. This is a rigorous and robust piece of legislation that I am convinced will be able to withstand any challenges.

I’m pleased to see that all types of renting are covered in the Bill – private renting, social housing and student tenancies.

If successful, the Bill will give Ministers the power to extend the measures as far as 31 March 2024.

This Bill should not be viewed in isolation. It is part of our commitment to reforming the rental sector and helping families and households across Scotland who have been hit by soaring rents.

Over the course of this parliamentary term we will be building on this by introducing the biggest expansion of tenants rights since devolution: including better rights and protections from eviction, the right to decorate and keep pets, and, perhaps most importantly, a robust national system of rent controls.

Across Europe and in many cities in North America, regulation of rents is commonplace. In Germany, controls over rent sit side by side with a much larger, better-managed private rented sector. In other words, the approach of the UK, these last 30 years or so, of leaving private rents to the market, is an outlier.

Within the UK Scotland is forging a much more progressive path. No doubt that is why Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London has said: “This bold action from the Scottish Government will support thousands of households during this national crisis.”

With all the levers of an independent country Scotland could do so much more to tackle the cost crisis head on. But today’s Bill shows that, once again, Scottish Greens working constructively in government are leading the way. We are not just talking about change, we are working constructively and delivering it.

Ariane Burgess MSP is Scottish Greens spokesperson on housing.