Rent freeze bill appears to offer respite to under-pressure tenants
Amid the noise from landlords and vested interests, the policy has the potential of having a radical impact on the affordability of the next six months for the thousands of private renters in Scotland.
They are among those hardest hit by stagnating wages as house prices rocket, with higher mortgages on buy-to-lets resulting in ever higher rents.
On the face of it, the Scottish Government’s bill does plenty to protect tenants from the rapidly deteriorating cost-of-living crisis.
Its provisions include an ability for landlords to claw back some money if their mortgage payments go up, but not at the expense of tenants.
Instead, landlords must apply for the rise rather than relying on tenants simply not challenging it, and even then the rise must only cover half of the increased cost and be the equivalent of three per cent of the total rent.
It is the first step towards a truly fair rental system which forces landlords, rather than tenants, to do the heavy lifting when it comes to proving the rental value of a property.
The process of challenging an unlawful rent rise appears relatively straightforward with tenants having the option of referring any rent increase notice to Rent Service Scotland to adjudicate on whether it has breached the zero per cent rise limit.
There remains the question of a potential legal challenge from landlord groups and individuals which is well within the realms of possibility.
The biggest disappointment, and the aspect of the bill which will leave renters looking for a new home most concerned, is the lack of a provision around rents for properties on the market.
The ability of landlords to raise rents between tenancies could see significant price hikes.
This is due to landlords looking to make as much money as possible now, rather than hope they can raise the rent at a later date.
Given housing supply problems, any letting agent worth their salt will be advising higher rents for any property on the market.
While an extension of the freeze is possible, there is also nothing protecting tenants from a rise after it ends.
Scrutiny of this bill will be key.
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