Landlords seek legal advice in first rumblings of court fight over rent freeze bill

Landlords have taken the first step towards legal action against the Scottish Government’s rent freeze bill.

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A ‘coalition’ of landlord representatives and lettings bodies have asked for expert legal opinion on whether the bill breaches the European Convention on Human Rights.

Patrick Harvie, the tenant’s rights minister, said he was confident the bill was secure from challenge as it passed through Holyrood.

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Tenants union Living Rent said the move towards legal action demonstrated the “complete disregard” landlords have for tenants.

The bill was passed 89 votes to 27 in Holyrood last week, and will see rents in the private and social sector frozen for at least six months, with the potential for a further 12 month extension.

Landlords are still able to raise rents by up to three per cent if they are able to demonstrate increased bills due to mortgage rate increases or other landlord-specific costs.

They are also able to evict tenants, despite the ban, if they can demonstrate they are in financial difficult and must either sell or move into the property.

Social housing bodies do not appear to be part of the legal fight.

Landlords are seeking legal advice around the Scottish Government's rent freeze bill.Landlords are seeking legal advice around the Scottish Government's rent freeze bill.
Landlords are seeking legal advice around the Scottish Government's rent freeze bill.

Those involved include the Scottish Association of Landlords (SAL), estate agents body Propertymark, the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA), and Scottish Land and Estates.

Lord Davidson of Glen Clova KC has been instructed by the group to provide an opinion on whether the legislation breaches the individual rights of landlords in Scotland, alongside a potential ECHR breach.

The group said they would consider “all legal options” available if the advice argues there is a clear breach.

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This would likely result in judicial review proceedings in the Court of Session.

John Blackwood, SAL chief executive said the move towards a legal fight was their “last resort” due to landlords “not being listened to by the Scottish Government”.

He said: “This emergency legislation is high-minded in spirit but lacking in the kind of detail landlords need assurance about. Uncertainty for landlords only creates ambiguity for tenants, and I do not think the government appreciates the level of confusion it has now created.”

“We have repeatedly said we are all willing to work with the Scottish Government and ministers. This is a tough time, but that does not excuse ill-designed legislation that may be the final straw for the private rented sector.”

“We are gravely concerned that in a bid to do something to help tenants, the Scottish Government have forgotten the underlying stresses in the PRS that we have been warning about for years.”

Ben Beadle, chief executive of NRLA, added: “Tenants across the country are already facing a supply crisis in the PRS. Far from making things better, a rent freeze will mean less choice for tenants, making it more difficult for them to access the housing they need.”

“A viable and thriving PRS is vital to a healthy housing market. Sadly, the actions of the Scottish Government damage this objective and will ultimately hurt tenants the most.”

Private rents in Scotland have risen 10 per cent for a two bed home in the last year, 25 per cent in the last five years, and 43 per cent in the last 10 years, and now sits at £915 per month, research by rental property website Citylets.

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In Edinburgh, a two bed home is on the market for an average of £1,225 per month, up 17.7 per cent in a year.

The equivalent in Glasgow is now £1,087 per month, up 14.9 per cent in the last year.

Aditi Jehangir, a spokesperson for Living Rent, said the move to overturn the freeze was a demonstration of landlords believing they have a “right to unchecked profit” and don’t care about their tenants.

They added: “When we see landlords and letting agents throwing their toys out of the pram when they can no longer continue to profit off tenants without restraint, that confirms our belief that regulations are essential. We clearly can not trust them to do the right thing.

As the report from CityLets yesterday demonstrates, landlords' pursuit of profit is pushing tenants to breaking point.

"Rent controls need to be brought in the second the rent freeze ends, otherwise we have seen that landlords will simply hike up rents the moment when they cease to be regulated, driving tenants further into poverty.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) Bill addresses the cost of living crisis by increasing protection for tenants, including student tenants, from eviction and rent rises. The measures will apply initially until March next year. We will keep their impact on the wider property market under review during that time.

“The legislation has been carefully designed to balance the protections that are urgently needed for tenants with important safeguards for those landlords who may also be impacted by the cost crisis and face financial hardship.”

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