Black’s Blog: Rent controls mean well but do they work?

Black’s Blog: Rent controls mean well but do they work?

Jimmy Black considers rent controls and predicts that nothing will change.

Having just watched NYE, a National Theatre (E&W) play which tells the story of Aneurin Bevan, I can feel some sympathy for Patrick Harvie, the minister for tenants’ rights.

Bevan faced opposition to his plans for a National Health Service from many on his own side, never mind Churchill and the Conservatives. In the end, he made compromises but still managed to create revolutionary change.

I believe Patrick Harvie wants to bring in effective rent controls, but has been prevented from doing so by people who don’t want them or are nervous about introducing them. So we have an ultra-cautious proposal which depends on local authorities collecting data about rent conditions in their areas, deciding that there is a case for rent controls, then taking that data to the Scottish Government, proving that their data is robust, and then convincing Scottish Ministers to impose a scheme.

It’s not so different from the system of rent pressure zones which already exists and which nobody has ever used, and it will be years before the first local authority is able to put a case to government.

Professor Douglas Robertson, one of our guests on the Scottish Housing News Podcast, characterises this kind of legislation as “virtue signalling”. It shows your heart is in the right place, but the rents stay high. He is also aware that in other countries where demand is high, rent controls don’t always work. Landlords avoid people who know their rights, and people pay landlords extra to secure a property.

Technical problems on our side damaged our recording of Douglas’ contribution, but you can read all of his comments in the transcript.

Professor Robertson and our other guest, Dr John Boyle from Rettie, welcomed some other aspects of the Scottish Government’s proposals. Converting all the remaining short-assured and assured tenancies into Private Residential Tenancies makes sense; it’s surprising that so many short-assured tenancies appear to remain. John seemed unfazed by new rights on pets and décor.

Both seemed comfortable with changes in joint tenancies. Flatmates will be able to give each other two months’ notice before ending the tenancy. Currently, all joint tenants must agree before a tenancy can be ended (unless, of course, the landlord ends it). That traps people in tenancies … and relationships … which they no longer want.

My view is that the Bill proposes some useful changes, but I’ll be looking for a hat to eat if these rent controls ever come to pass in any meaningful way. Mr Harvie should go back to his colleagues in government (assuming he remains in government, and I hope he does), and insist on a nationally consistent approach which gives landlords certainty and tenants rights they can actually enforce. Then maybe in 70-odd years time, our own National Theatre will be producing plays about Patrick.

A transcript of this episode is available here.

Further reading:

The Scottish Housing News Podcast is co-hosted by Kieran Findlay and Jimmy Black. All episodes are available here as well as on the following platforms:

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