Scottish Labour wants to bring in rent controls for buy to let tenants in a proposed major rehash of letting laws. Leader Richard Leonard is calling for state intervention to tackle rising rents. Scottish Labour argues that many young families are now caught in a vicious cycle – a lack of affordable public housing forces people to rent privately and as a result, many are paying ‘rip-off rents’ which stops them saving for a deposit to buy their own home, they say.
Because of this, the party is launching a ‘Mary Barbour’ law discussion paper, named after an activist who led a rent strike in Glasgow in 1915. Leonard argues the law is needed as the number of private rented homes in Scotland has soared from 5% in 1999 to 15% in 2016 - and to nearer 25% in major cities such as Edinburgh and Dundee. The party wants landlords and tenants to take part in an anonymous consultation to build support for the move. Besides controlling rents, Leonard proposes to build more social housing and wants local authority pension funds to pay some of the money towards this.
The funds hold assets worth £42 billion and Leonard believes social housing is a low-risk investment for them.
“We have begun the work to introduce a new Rent Restrictions Act – a Mary Barbour law to protect tenants and to control rents exactly as I pledged to do in my leadership campaign,” said Leonard.
“The Mary Barbour law will regulate the private rented sector to ensure that no one is forced to rent a home that pushes them into poverty or falls below the standards needed to protect their physical and mental health and well-being.”
Leonard also explained he believes the private rented sector is failing tenants.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Rent controls were removed under Thatcherite housing reforms, and since then the market has decided at what level rent will be set – effectively this has, in some instances, meant that landlords and letting agents charge as much as they can. The Scottish Labour leader has made no secret of his desire to control rents and limit the power of private landlords in Scotland, but opponents of this approach have expressed concerns that tighter control over rents will distort the market, discourage investment in the sector and therefore could have an adverse impact on tenants.