Private tenants in Scotland are facing big rent rises and mass evictions as emergency protections expire at the end of next month, campaigners have warned.
The Scottish government has “in effect rubber-stamped rent increases from April”, says Ruth Gilbert, the national campaigns chair of the Scotland-wide tenants’ union Living Rent, while transitional measures are inadequate and confusing, leaving many unaware what their legal rights are.
A 3% cap on all in-tenancy rent increases in the private rented sector as well as protections against eviction were first introduced in September 2022. The emergency legislation, led by the Scottish National party’s governing partners, the Scottish Greens, was intended as a temporary response to the cost of living crisis and comes to an end on 31 March.
Living Rent says it is already seeing cases of tenants being served with notice of rent increases of between 30% and 60% in advance of the cap ending, even though they are entitled to a three-month notice period from 1 April.
“We’re also worried that the scale of evictions, because if you can’t afford your rent hike then that is an eviction whether you call it one or not,” said Gilbert. “Particularly across the central belt in Glasgow and Edinburgh, people are already paying well over half their take-home pay on rent.”
Last month, the Scottish government proposed changes to the process for rent adjudication – any tenant who wants to dispute a rent increase can apply for this – which are intended to bridge the gap between the end of emergency protections and the housing bill becoming legislation. The bill includes a long-term system of rent controls and new rights for tenants, and is expected to have its first debate before summer recess.
These changes introduce a complicated formula for assessing rent rises against market rates, while Living Rent says tenants already have poor experiences of the adjudication process.
The housing bill has already been delayed, and campaigners expect significant push-back from landlords. A coalition of landlords’ bodies launched a judicial review of the original rent cap, which they lost.
Speaking to the Guardian last November, Ariane Burgess, the Scottish Greens’ housing spokesperson, pointed out that despite growing outcry about cavalier treatment of tenants’ rights, no other part of the UK had considered such a cap.
“Scotland is leading the way in this regard. But we’re also making Scotland normal in terms of other EU countries, where the rented sector is bigger and much better regulated,” she said.
Campaigners will be watching closely when the bill begins its passage through Holyrood, with Gilbert saying that along with the promised permanent controls, some kind of retroactive mechanism is required – akin to that proposed for London by the city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan – that can actually bring rents down.
“Over the last decade, we’ve had rents spiral out of control. Rents increased 80% in a decade in Glasgow: those figures are astronomical and if rents are genuinely going to become affordable there needs to be a mechanism to reverse this. That’s our vision,” she said.