The Scottish Labour leader visited Govan today to discuss his party’s plans for a so-called Mary Babrbour law - named after a central figure in the 1915 Glasgow rent strikes and one of the city’s first women councillors.
Mr Leonard said action was required as the private rented sector has grown from five per cent of households in 1999 to 15 per cent in 2016 - a figure that rises to 25 per cent in cities such as Edinburgh and Dundee.
Scottish Labour is now inviting private landlords and tenants to answer an anonymous survey on the sector which will help inform its final policy proposals.
“There’s been a massive increase in the size of the private rented sector and growing evidence that tenants, younger people especially, are seeing rent increases year after year with no improvements,” Mr Leonard told The Scotsman.
“There’s been a deterioration in the quality of the private rented sector. So we think the time has come for the state to intervene in the market and try and bring about some justice and control for tenants.
“Earlier this week we launched our plan for social housing, and that’s part of the solution as well. One of the reasons the private rented sector has grown so much is because of a failure over some time to invest in housing available for social rent.
“But in the meantime, we need a better relationship with the private rented sector.”
In a discussion paper, Scottish Labour said there “was no quick fix” to the problems of rising rents and housing costs overall.
But it believes something should be done in the short term to improve the quality of life of those spending a high proportion of their incomes on rent and risk being pushed into poverty by continued rent increases.
Scottish Government research published in May found that private rents in property hotspots such as Edinburgh have already become “unaffordable” for many Scots.
Mr Leonard continued: “We need a massive investment in social housing, but we also need action on the private rented sector - there is not sufficient regulation over it.
“Rents are going up at a level that are way above the rate of pay rises. The private rented sector has played its part in the declining levels of living standards for working people and we think that’s something that should be addressed.”
John Blackwood, chief executive of the Scottish Association of Landlords, said: “We work extensively with government and local authorities to ensure the private rented sector (PRS) is well regulated and professional.
“The PRS is a vital component in solving Scotland’s housing crisis but we too want to see an increase in social housing construction as well as private housing for purchase.
“Only by having a diverse range of housing available can we tackle the housing crisis and allow people to choose the right home for their circumstances and budget. An effective PRS is essential in delivering that choice.”