Ministers 'confident' rent freeze bill safe from legal challenge

Moves to bring in an emergency rent cap for tenants across Scotland strike the "right balance” between competing interests and is safer from legal challenge than a Labour proposal earlier in the year, a minister has said.

Patrick Harvie, minister for tenant’s rights and co-leader of the Scottish Greens, told Holyrood’s local government committee he was “satisfied” the bill is compliant.

Once passed by MSPs, the bill will see rent increases capped at zero per cent until the end of March next year, with landlords given the opportunity to raise rents by up to three per cent if they can demonstrate increased costs such as higher mortgage interest payments.

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Alongside this, landlords will only be able to evict tenants for a handful of reasons, including significant rent arrears and whether they need to sell or move into the property they are renting due to financial difficulty.

The bill is expected to pass easily through Holyrood by the end of the week.

Mr Harvie was asked by Miles Briggs, the Scottish Conservative local government spokesperson, whether he expected a legal challenge to the bill.

The minister said: “I’m satisfied that this bill is compliant and consistent with devolved competence.”

He added that the previous attempt at a rent freeze, brought to parliament by Scottish Labour as an amendment to a different bill, would have been “more clearly subject to legal challenge”, after previously labelling it “unworkable”.

Scottish Green Party co-leader Patrick Harvie is leading the government's rent freeze bill

Mr Harvie said: “I’m confident that we are bringing forward a bill now which not only responds to an emergency situation in an appropriate way, but also in a balanced way which reflects the interests and circumstances of both landlords and tenants.

"Some landlords are being very responsible and trying to protect tenants from rent increases whether in terms of the cost of living or indeed over the years of the pandemic, but others are imposing eye-watering rent increases.

"I will be far from the only Glasgow MSP who has heard from tenants who are seeing 20, 30, 40 per cent increases.

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"Simply unmanageable, unaffordable, unsustainable and will not take place under this legislation.”

The bill does not retrospectively ban rent increases which were notified to tenants before September 6.

Under current rules, rent increase notices can only be served once a year and with three months notice.

Mr Harvie said covering rent increases beforehand would have been “legally questionable” and “unfair”.

Conservative MSP Miles Briggs said there was international evidence that rent caps led to “quite severe” unintended consequences, including fewer properties being let out and a rise in homelessness.

Mr Harvie said: “There are other European countries with a higher level of regulation, and indeed long-standing systems of rent controls, which have an even bigger private rented sector than Scotland.

“So this can be done properly, this can be done responsibly, to make sure that we raise standards, ensure that there’s protection for tenants and tenants’ rights at the same time as making sure that our housing systems have adequate supply and good quality.”

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Earlier on Tuesday, the committee heard from representatives of a number of groups with interest in the legislation.

John Blackwood, chief executive of the Scottish Association of Landlords, said the Bill was “not proportionate”, adding that some landlords were already seeing increased mortgage costs.

He said: “Landlords are affected as well as tenants in the cost-of-living crisis.”

He said the Bill appeared to be “watered down” from the First Minister’s statement several weeks ago, but some landlords had been “spooked” by the changes.

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