Holyrood committee drops rent controls bill
A bill to control rent levels is unlikely to be debated in Holyrood after the Local Government Committee decided there was not enough time to scrutinise it.
The Committee said that due to a heavy workload, they could not allocate the appropriate amount of time to provide proper scrutiny of Pauline McNeill MSP’s Fair Rents (Scotland) Members Bill.
The decision means that the bill, introduced at the start of June and dubbed the Mary Barbour Bill after the legendary rent strike organiser, is now unlikely to be debated before next year’s Scottish Parliament elections.
The Fair Rents (Scotland) Bill added to the law about private rented housing in the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016 and aims to improve the way rents are set in private rented housing as a means of reducing poverty and supporting low-income tenants and their families.
The bill prevented a landlord from increasing rent by more than a set level, related to inflation; allowed a tenant to apply to the rent officer to have a ‘fair open market rent’ set for the property (a tenant can do this only once in any 12-month period); and required landlords to include details of the rent they charge in the public register known as the Scottish Landlord Register.
The bill also meant that the Scottish Government would have to publish a statement within three years showing how the bill has affected rent levels in Scotland and how affordable private rented housing is.
The bill was also written with the support of Govan Law Centre’s Mike Dailly and followed extensive engagement from across the housing sector in Scotland.
Commenting on the dropping of the bill, Ms McNeill, who is Scottish Labour’s housing spokesperson, said: “I am extremely disappointed that the Local Government Committee has decided not to proceed with the Fair Rents (Scotland) Bill at this stage.
“I appreciate that time is tight between now and the end of this parliamentary session, but the Bill proposed important measures to protect renters and improve housing affordability. The need for these measures was great before the Covid-19 crisis but lockdown has intensified the need for change in this sector.
“There has never been more people renting in the private rented sector, many of whom will be in a crisis of high rents, but do not have the option of public housing or the deposit to buy their own home.
“I believe so strongly in the need for this legislation, I will be seeking to have the Bill scrutinised by one of the other parliamentary committees. We cannot afford to leave thousands of Scots having to pay unaffordable rents.”
Mike Dailly, solicitor advocate at Govan Law Centre, added: “We are astonished that the Scottish Parliament‘s Local Government Committee has refused to consider the Fair Rents (Scotland) Bill. They have binned the Bill without any discussion. A year of hard work ignored. Lockdown has meant a massive increase in rent arrears, what could be more important than discussing fair rents in Scotland?
“The private rented sector has trebled in size over the last 20 years and private rents have gone up by double the rate of inflation year on year across the central belt of Scotland. Poorer families can spend 60% of their income on rent.
“The Scottish Government don’t want to debate the difficult issues of rent controls in the run up to next year’s Scottish Parliament elections, which is exactly when we should debate such important issues. MSPs should speak up for low-income families renting in the private sector and make sure this well thought through legislation is considered by the Scottish Parliament.”