Pauline McNeill MSP: It's time for radical overhaul of private rent market

Last week, I launched the Mary Barbour (Fair Rents Scotland) Bill. This proposed Bill is the result of work I have been doing alongside Richard Leonard, who made the commitment to rent controls during his Scottish Labour leadership campaign

Make no mistake, this bill can make a difference to people’s lives, but it is only the beginning of the changes Scottish Labour would make if we were in government.

It is time for a radical overhaul of the private rented sector in Scotland. Why should tenants within the private rented sector not have an equality of rights with people living in the social sector? Private tenants face multiple grounds for eviction with very little security of tenure.

The reality for many people, young people in particular, is that they have no choice but to rent in the private sector.

Home ownership is no longer an option for many people in their twenties to their forties.  To compound this, many of the same group of people often discover that they are not a high priority on social housing waiting lists. At least until we substantially grow the sector.

The private rented sector has almost trebled since 1999 whilst the social sector has shrunk. Students are a group who have experienced very shady practises such as having their name drawn out a hat when bidding for a property due to the high demand. They need protection too.

Across Scotland, there are examples of exorbitant rent rises well above the rate of inflation. This is not just an issue for our big cities but across the country.

The first thing the Mary Barbour Bill will do is to cap annual increases in the private sector rent increases across Scotland, at one percentage point above inflation - measured according to the consumer price index (CPI).

The bill will also prevent tribunals from imposing a higher rent, which is open to them and prevents many people from making an application to fair rent under the 2016 act.  

Rent Pressure Zones have not worked and not a single local authority has applied to be considered. This is mainly because the data collection is extremely difficult to compile. The Bill will also require Landlords to register the amount of rent they charge. This will give a clearer picture of rents across the country

This is only the beginning of a campaign to transform the rights of private sector tenants. We  all know people who are paying exorbitant rents but are living in appalling conditions. Our long-term aim is to change this. Good property owners need not fear this law.  We will be working with all parties and anyone with an interest to make this workable. A special thanks to Govan Law centre for supporting the bill. As we champion this cause, Mary Barbour’s memory lives on.

Picture: Martin Fisch/Flickr

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