The Problem of Unaffordable Rents
The housing crisis in Scotland has reached a critical point, as many tenants struggle to pay their rents amid the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, the average rent in Scotland increased by 2.3% in the year to September 2023, while the average wage decreased by 1.2% in the same period. This means that many renters are spending more than a third of their income on housing, leaving them with little money for other essential needs.
The problem is especially acute in urban areas, where the demand for housing exceeds the supply. In Edinburgh, for example, the average rent for a two-bedroom flat is £1,200 per month, which is more than twice the national average. In Glasgow, the average rent for a one-bedroom flat is £750 per month, which is 50% higher than the national average. These high rents are driven by factors such as the lack of social housing, the growth of short-term lets, the speculation of landlords and investors, and the low regulation of the private rented sector.
The Solution of Rent Control
To address the problem of unaffordable rents, a grassroots campaign group called Living Rent has been advocating for the introduction of rent control in Scotland. Rent control is a policy that limits the amount that landlords can charge or increase their rents, based on criteria such as the quality, size, location, and condition of the property. Rent control aims to protect tenants from excessive rent hikes, ensure fair and stable rents, and improve the quality and availability of housing.
Living Rent argues that rent control is necessary to prevent homelessness, reduce poverty, and promote social justice. The group cites examples from other countries, such as Germany, France, and Sweden, where rent control has been implemented successfully. Living Rent also points out that rent control was once a common feature of the Scottish housing system, until it was abolished by the Thatcher government in the 1980s.
The Campaign for Rent Control
Living Rent has been campaigning for rent control since 2014, when it was founded by a group of tenants who were fed up with the poor conditions and high costs of their rented accommodation. Since then, the group has grown to have branches in several cities across Scotland, and has mobilized thousands of members and supporters to take action for better housing.
Some of the actions that Living Rent has taken include:
- Organizing rent strikes, protests, and petitions to pressure landlords and politicians to lower rents and improve standards.
- Providing advice, support, and solidarity to tenants who are facing eviction, harassment, or discrimination from their landlords.
- Educating and empowering tenants about their rights and responsibilities, and how to organize collectively to defend them.
- Lobbying and influencing the Scottish government and parliament to introduce legislation and policies that favor tenants and rent control.
The Progress and Challenges of Rent Control
Living Rent has achieved some significant victories in its campaign for rent control, such as:
- The introduction of the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016, which gave tenants more security of tenure, protection from unfair evictions, and the right to challenge unreasonable rent increases.
- The creation of Rent Pressure Zones (RPZs), which allow local authorities to apply to the Scottish government to cap rent increases in areas where rents are rising too fast and causing hardship to tenants.
- The establishment of the Fair Rents (Scotland) Bill 2020, which proposes to limit rent increases to the Consumer Price Index plus 1%, and to give tenants the right to apply to a rent officer to reduce their rent if it is above the market average.
However, Living Rent also faces many challenges and obstacles in its campaign for rent control, such as:
- The opposition and resistance of landlords, investors, and developers, who claim that rent control would reduce the supply and quality of housing, and discourage investment and innovation in the sector.
- The lack of political will and support from the Scottish government and parliament, who have been reluctant to implement or expand rent control, and have rejected or delayed many of the proposals and demands of Living Rent.
- The complexity and difficulty of designing and enforcing rent control, which requires careful consideration of the economic, social, and legal implications, and the involvement and cooperation of various stakeholders and agencies.
The Future of Rent Control
Living Rent vows to continue its fight for rent control in Scotland, as it believes that it is the only way to ensure that housing is a human right, not a commodity. The group hopes that its campaign will inspire and mobilize more tenants and allies to join its cause, and that it will influence and persuade more politicians and policymakers to adopt its vision.
Living Rent also hopes that its campaign will contribute to a wider movement for social change, that challenges the status quo and the power structures that benefit from it, and that creates a more democratic, equitable, and sustainable society.