Rented sector needs proper policy to solve shortage

Scotland needs a strong but fair rented housing sector. Picture: Contributed

Scotland needs a strong but fair rented housing sector. Picture: Contributed

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IN THE Scottish Parliament’s version of the Queen’s Speech, Nicola Sturgeon outlined plans to introduce local rent controls through a Private Tenancies Bill and, while there is much to commend the drive to improve the private rented sector, the pursuit of rent controls has been allowed to continue without sufficient analysis of how these would work in practice, or recognition of the harm they would do to tenants and landlords.

Advocates of rent control often cite Germany as providing both tenant and landlord with a predictable and secure relationship, therefore allowing for longer term investments.

However, where forms of rent control exist, such as in Berlin, they have been balanced by strong tax incentives and land releases designed to promote supply and encourage private investment in the sector. Therefore to cherry pick one aspect of housing policy is to ignore the bigger picture.

Undoubtedly the “big picture” issue in Scotland’s housing is the critical lack of supply driven by low levels of housebuilding. What’s needed is a wider reaching supply and tenure model appropriate for Scotland, which addresses the necessity for investment in rental properties as well as the needs of tenants across the income spectrum.

PRS 4 Scotland is putting forward a “framework” that offers a basis to do this and we will be working with government and opposition parties to address the real issues in housing but also warning of the dangers of adopting a rent control system which would be so detrimental to tenants, landlord and indeed homeowners in Scotland.

There is a great deal of consensus around raising standards in the private rented sector and many of the reforms proposed in the government’s consultation, and indeed in the bill, are very welcome. That said, there is still a danger that the process is knocked off track by a single-minded focus on rent controls.

We need to use this opportunity to take account of both tenant and landlord concerns and aspirations and create an innovative and world leading PRS that genuinely answers Scotland’s housing needs.

• Dr John Boyle is a spokesperson for PRS 4 Scotland working towards an affordable, strong and well-invested private rented sector in Scotland

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