Housing Bill part 1: Rent controls and tenants’ rights - podcast transcript

Housing Bill part 1: Rent controls and tenants' rights - podcast transcript

Dr John Boyle and Professor Douglas Robertson

Below is a full transcript of episode 54 of the Scottish Housing News Podcast titled ‘Housing Bill part 1: Rent controls and tenants’ rights with Dr John Boyle’. Professor Douglas Robertson also contributed to this episode, but we could not include his audio in the published recording due to technical issues. We publish the transcript of the full conversation, including Douglas’ spirited contribution, below. Listen to the published episode here.

Kieran Findlay

Hello and welcome to the Scottish Housing News Podcast. I’m Kieran Findlay, the editor of Scottish Housing News and I’m joined by former Dundee Housing Convener, Jimmy Black. The long-awaited housing bill is finally here and there’s so much to digest. We have dedicated the next three episodes to discuss various elements of the legislation, beginning with increased rates for private tenants and arguably the most contentious proposal, rent controls.

Jimmy Black

A regular listener to this podcast will have heard tenants’ union Living Rent say rent controls are absolutely vital to keep rents affordable and prevent people being priced out and living in Scotland’s cities. We’ve also spoken to landlords who argue that the measures will see reduced investment and more landlords leaving the sector, leading to higher costs for tenants.

So today we’ve cast the net a bit wider. To debate the merits of the Housing Bill and its impact on the private rented sector, we’ve invited Dr John Boyle, the director of research and strategy at Rettie. And returning to the podcast, one of our earliest guests, Professor Douglas Robertson, formerly of the University of Stirling.

Kieran Findlay

Let’s start with some facts then. We’ll get on to the opinion later. What type of rent control is the Scottish Government proposing Douglas?

Douglas Robertson

That’s a difficult question to answer because we’ve already previously tried to have right control then nothing happens. And given that this legislation, the proposed legislation, looks very similar to what was proposed previously, and it may be there in works, but I’m not sure that that’s going to be there in practice. I’m not convinced that they have any data or the local authorities who weren’t committed to pursuing rent control zones will be any more interested in pursuing this one. Yes, I don’t know whether John will have a better idea of what the intention here is. I don’t see much difference from the original one.

John Boyle

Yeah, I think that’s a fair assessment, Douglas. I mean, from my reading of it anyway, it’s like a version two of rent pressure zones. So that allowed local authorities to present evidence to Scottish Government ministers that a rent control area was necessary in part or all of the local authority area.

And then if ministers approved, it would be CPI plus X over a period of up to five years. So that meant that the rent increase or at least the kind of the floor was always going to take inflation into account so that you could at least have what’s called an index-linked return when you can when you can at least keep up with inflation and that would be between sorry within tenancies only with landlords and investors being able to mark back to market when the tenancy ended.

So the onus is now on local authorities to undertake an assessment of rent conditions by end of November 2026 and thereafter no less than every five years and the local authorities are granted powers to collect that data that are required to make such decisions. So landlords would be asked to comply to provide details on their rents and changes within the rents to help the local authorities to gather the necessary data because that was one of the problems with the previous legislation. The onus was very much placed on the local authorities to gather the data themselves. But even if you make a statutory requirement for landlords to provide the data, someone still needs to collect and monitor that data and then to also enforce the legislation.

So, it looks like this is going to have to be in a local authority basis though, rather than on a national basis. So it’s not going to be like the rental tenancies tribunal or tenancies board in the Republic of Ireland, which is nationally funded and monitors rent rises within the Republic of Ireland and it also has enforcement duties. Under the new system, if the local authority deems that the rent control is recommended, then again it goes to, like RPZs, it goes to the Scottish Government for approval. And the rent controls, while they’ll govern increases both in tenancy and between tenancies, so that’s how it differs from the old RPZ, it can set those increases to zero. So no rent rises at all.

We don’t really have much detail on the mechanism of the rent control and we don’t really have the detail on whether it’s going to be linked to inflation or whether it will be some sort of cap. This seems like it’s going to be governed by the local authorities. But by the time we have the legislation or all the secondary legislation passed and by the time that the local authorities collect the data and then put it to ministers for approval, it doesn’t seem that this can be introduced any earlier than 2027.

Which, you know, if you’re an investor in the market, that gives you an awful lot of uncertainty. Not just via large institutional fund, because you can’t hunt it right if you don’t know what your rent price is going to be, but also if you’re a small investor or landlord, again, you’re faced with that period of uncertainty. And even if you’re a tenant, and you’re concerned about future rent rises, the national rent control system isn’t going to come in for another three years. And in the interim, it looks like it’s going to be the rent adjudication process that kicked in from early April this year.

Jimmy Black

Let’s just recap then. For this to work, the local authority has to collect a lot of information. It then has to decide whether it wants to recommend a rent cap in its area. It also has to work out whether it is for the whole authority or whether it is part of the authority. In the Highland region, Highland is enormous. Other local authorities, such as Perth and Kinross, are enormous. There is that kind of thing to think about. Then it goes to the Scottish Ministers. They have to prove that the data supports a cap, and then the Scottish Ministers have to decide, ‘which one do we want?’.

Then in terms of recent attempts to use rent control legislation, I think it is at 181 applications, I cannot remember, that a very small number of people actually go to the first-tier tribunal like the rent officer or whatever it is and try and get their rents reduced. So, actually, John, have landlords got anything to worry about? It just really isn’t going to happen, is it?

John Boyle

I think it will happen, at least if the current SNP-Green pact is maintained over the next few years because it is a central part of the Bute House Agreement, a national system of rent control, so the SNP basically agreed to back that Green policy initiative.

And if both parties, particularly the Green Party, has got to go back to its electorate at the next Holyrood elections, it’s got to be able to demonstrate that it has delivered on the policy objectives within the Bute House Agreement. Now, some of those policy objectives are not going to be delivered, it seems. Things like DRS, Deposit Return Scheme, has been blocked. Gender Recognition Act has also effectively been blocked. And the rent controls is one of the few things that’s still in the Bute House Agreement that can be delivered so I think the pressure will be on that a system of national rent controls is introduced before the next Holyrood elections in 2026.

How that’s actually implemented afterwards is a matter for some conjecture, I think, as to which local authorities think they need to introduce rent control and for what particular areas. But I think there is certainly some support from local politicians, as was the case with the previous RPZs when they were being discussed. There is support from some local politicians and local political parties, particularly in Edinburgh and Glasgow, which would be the two main areas really for some rent control measures to be considered because it’s likely, I mean it’s hard to tell because of the paucity of data, but it is likely that advertised rents as well as actual rents have been rising in both those local authority areas ahead of inflation over the last five to ten years.

So it’s in those areas where there’ll probably be greater pressure to introduce something. It’ll be less of a concern in other areas.

Kieran Findlay

Douglas, you’ve researched rent controls in other countries, is there anywhere where you think they have worked successfully?

Douglas Robertson

It’s difficult to serve up with any degree of certainty because all the systems we looked at, people with wealth or those with high incomes had the ability to breach any system that existed. In Berlin, for example, in Germany, landlords could recoup the cost of improving the house. So, if they had sitting tenants, they would improve the property. They can recoup that within a five-year period, therefore the rents went up.

Ireland too has a national rent control system, which operates in two areas, around Cork and around Dublin, similar to Glasgow, Edinburgh. And again, the percentage of rent increase has to be held. But tenants knew that if they went in and asked the landlord what the rent was, they wouldn’t get a house because the landlord would know that they were therefore looking to work out the percentage increase from what was being asked. So people don’t ask what the rent was because they want the house. So all these systems do get breached inevitably.

The other issue is that other rental systems are quite different in that they’ve moved from a controlled system or very recently moved from a controlled system or in the case of Sweden they still have a controlled system or in Holland they have a controlled system whereby they work out a point basis of the quality of the property and then put that against a particular rental average and such like.

I can say that that’s not comparable to this situation where we lost rent control in 1988, effectively, as it was introduced from 1915. We are now slowly falling back into some type of rent control and rent restoration as it is called. Again, as John has already pointed out, the information on rents being collected by the Scottish Government suggests that the rent rises within the sector above what they wanted to restrict them to. So even a basic system that they introduced hasn’t worked. That is to say, because the pre-registration rents are going up.

But also we have a dearth of information to allow us to actually see what’s going on. We still operate on the idea of these broad housing market areas where the rent service collects information on rents. Unfortunately, they have opted to collect it from Zoopla and other electronic sources. We don’t actually know what the rents are that are being charged within tenancies. We only know the advertising when it comes out. So that’s obviously going to be higher, as it’s allowed to be.

But we also have poor quality of information that again the Office for National Statistics have actually pulled into question the robustness of the structural system against their system in England and Wales because again we’ve got Glasgow and Edinburgh exceeding the rents of London and other major cities in England. Is that the case or is it the fact that we’re collecting rent information in a very different way? So it’s got the release of very high rents but is that the case? And again, there doesn’t seem to be any commitment on the part of the Scottish Government to improve the quality of rental information. I have to say, in France they have an observatory of rents, and some other countries have a central government system that provides it. In fact, to John’s original point, the rental system, the Scottish Government has to step up and provide decent information to allow this to happen.

If it’s not actually willing to invest in that, and I heard Adam Krawczyk, who is in charge of the statistics, saying this will cost £4 million a year if we were to adopt the Irish system in a recent seminar on this area, then it seems that the Scottish Government is quite willing to talk about it in great descriptions on rent regulation, but when it actually comes to providing the information, it’s putting all the onus on local government to do the hard graft to provide that, as opposed to having instant information which is readily available to do more.

Jimmy Black

John, is your objection to rent controls a principled objection or could there be a system which guarantees affordability for tenants and stability for landlords?

John Boyle

Yeah, I mean, I think if you invited the sector representatives, I’m not a sector representative, but I do work with sector representatives and we’ve facilitated meetings between the government and institutional funds. Recently, we had a meeting down in London in October and a working group came off the back of that, which still meets regularly.

But you can, the sector would be willing to work with the government to see if they can get an acceptable form of whatever you want to call it rent control or some form of rent harmonisation. But what the sector needs to have is it needs to have certainty. So it needs to have certainty going forward over the longer term.

So in the Republic of Ireland, if we can go back to that again, then the rent control was set in the rent pressure zone at 4% and then it was reduced to 2%. And for the institutional funds, that made life extremely difficult because you’re underwriting at 4% and then suddenly you’re told the following year, oh actually now it’s down to 2% and some of the political parties are campaigning for that to be reduced to zero. So if you don’t have certainty, you can’t really invest.

So what the funds require is first and foremost certainty about what’s the direction of this going forward over the next five to 10 years and then they can underwrite their investments but they’ll be looking for at least an inflation-linked return because if you can’t beat inflation, for these big pension funds, then you’re not gonna be able to pay your pension liabilities at the back end. So you’re gonna have to be at least beating inflation or pretty certain of at least beating inflation.

And that’s what makes the rent control between tenancies, that’s what makes that pretty difficult, I think, for the funds to swallow. Because that means that your ability to revert back to market is extremely limited. And your guarantee of at least making an inflation return over a particular time period is also much more limited and uncertain.

Kieran Findlay

CIH Scotland have said that they have real concerns about the impact that rent control policy will have on the supply of privately rented homes, just like you said there. Shelter Scotland, I would describe as lukewarm to the idea. Apart from the tenants’ union Living Rent, who has been calling for rent controls?

Douglas Robertson

I would presume the Green Party. I think it’s a bit lukewarm also within the Scottish National Party.

Kieran Findlay

So who are the Green Party listening to?

Douglas Robertson

Themselves, firstly, and Living Rent, I feel. But essentially they have a constituency, and Living Rent I suppose is part of that constituency, and young people who are within the private rented sector and feel exploited. I think the danger we’ve got here is that there is an ideological commitment to it, that the repercussions of this, potentially, from what John is saying and others are saying is that we actually start to lose people out of the private rented sector. Ironically, it’s the small operators who basically have skills that are actually the ones most popular with tenants. And then the result is that there’s a shortage in the market, the price goes up and we end up encouraging the very thing that this legislation is supposed to be ironing about.

I think part of this may be a reflection that we now no longer have a government agency dedicated to housing within the Scottish Government and I think in a sense out of a lot of policy proposals coming forward, this one to me looks very much like it contains annoying little bits and pieces from other previous legislation that was discussed and argued before at the time, all coming back onto the agenda, and it doesn’t look as though there is the strategic view of what is the focus of the private rented sector within Scottish housing policy.

It’s all very well to say we need rent control, we need to control this, but if we don’t have a strategic view, particularly to best support the role and function that the private rented sector has, and at the same time when the Scottish Government has literally just snuffed what comes down to 30% of the budget for our housing associations in the future to provide social housing, then that alternative is not there. I think it’s a very dangerous strategy to undermine part of the market when you’ve not actually got the capacity to provide any other housing in any other way. I have to say, I just think it’s a very serious and highly problematic situation we’re finding ourselves in with this piece of legislation.

And I’m politically probably would be somebody that would advocate for limited controls at some point but within a framework. If you’re just picking it as an ambition as opposed to seeing it within a much broader strategy as to what you’re doing with housing, it does become tokenistic I must say.

Jimmy Black

I had the happy task of going to the rent tribunal to argue for rents to be reduced for people who came to my advice centre. And then, of course, that was all taken away by the Tory government in the 1980s, which I wonder if that was a mistake. Anyway, never mind, let’s move on. Eviction is going to be limited, it’s going to be more difficult to evict people under the new legislation that’s being proposed in that the tribunal or the sheriff can impose a delay on evictions. What do you think, John, is that sensible? I mean, it has been difficult for private landlords to evict tenants over the last few years.

What about this power to delay evictions? What does that mean for landlords?

John Boyle

Well there was kind of an eviction ban although of course it wasn’t a complete eviction ban, there was still grounds in which you could get the property back. But I think with a lot of the other aspects of the bill including things like the ability to redecorate properties within reason, the ability to keep pets but again with some mitigation, so you may pay a higher deposit for example if you want to keep a pet in case there’s any damage to the property. But these matters, and including delays on eviction orders on good grounds, there’s nothing really for good landlords or sensible landlords to fear by any of this. And the fact that the first-tier tribunal and the courts are there to make a judgment and you would expect them to be making a considered judgment, I think landlords will be broadly satisfied with that.

I think the only problem with it is it’s not so much the fairness of the adjudication process, it’s the time that the adjudication is going to take. If you’ve got an anti-social tenant for example that’s in there that you think is thrashing the property and it’s going to maybe take three to six months to evict them then that’s a real concern. That would be a real concern for the landlord.

If we can get the first-tier tribunal properly resourced to be able to deal with the caseload that’s coming through, then I don’t think there are many of the judgments that they’ve reached that have been strange or anomalous in any way. Most of those judgments have been fair and considered whenever the tribunal has been used.

Kieran Findlay

John, Douglas mentioned there that the landlord lobby is a very effective one. They’re saying that they’ve seen evidence to suggest that landlords are leaving the sector due to the direction of travel with the legislation over the past few years. Have you seen evidence of that yourself?

John Boyle

Yeah, we are an agency and we’ve got a sales and a lettings business as well as the consultancy business in which I sit in. We’ve got a sizeable portfolio of properties under management, I think around about 2000 or thereabouts in the central belt and across all parts of the market from very plush rental properties on Heriot Row to mid-market rent properties in North Edinburgh. So we’ve got a reasonably good perspective really of what’s happening in the market. And we have certainly seen with direct evidence that there are a number of landlords that have left the sector.

It’s not quite a flood but it’s more than a trickle and it’s also fair to say it’s not just because of the new legislative environment and the concerns over rent controls. Many of those landlords left because of the tapering of mortgage interest relief so the loss of mortgage interest relief really which started from around about 2015. And those that were highly leveraged, that made it more problematic for them to stay within the sector.

So if you look at the Scottish household survey, again it’s paucity of data unfortunately, but using the best evidence that we have, then the Scottish household survey demonstrates that the PRS in Scotland peaked at around about 380,000 properties or thereabouts back in 2016 and it’s been on a downward trajectory since. The latest data I think was from about 2022 and it’s down to around about 320,000 properties. So it does look as if we’ve had a loss of PRS properties since about 2016, which would coincide with the SPRT legislation, but would also coincide with the loss of mortgage interest relief.

Now the Scottish Government doesn’t tend to use those figures when it’s making its case for rent control, but it tends to use landlord registration figures, which is quite a dubious exercise really, because with landlord registration you only have to register every three years so there could be landlords who have ceased to operate two years ago who will still be on the register. But even if you look at the landlord registration figures over a relatively long timeline to get an idea in the trend, you can see a clear downward trajectory there from about 2014 for active registrations. So I don’t think there’s much doubt about it based on the triangulation of those various sources that the number of PRS properties in Scotland has dropped back over the last five to ten years.

Now that wouldn’t be a problem by itself if demand had also reduced but the evidence suggests that demand has increased over the last five to ten years, particularly from younger people. We’ve had an increase in student population, we’ve had an increase in young workers, migrant workers, particularly into your main city economies, and younger people now are much more likely to be in the PRS and want to be in the PRS than was the case about 20 years ago. And deposit requirements and the house prices also rising over the last 20 years has meant that for many younger people, they can’t afford to get onto the property ladder but there’s also a number of people who don’t yet want to get onto the property ladder because they’re much more itinerant than in previous generations.

So what’s happened is, particularly in these kind of core urban areas, is demand has swelled, whereas supply has probably dropped back. And that’s what’s given you the price pressures. It’s just this economic concept of scarcity. Landlords are rent-takers so it’s dependent really on the market conditions. Because we’ve had a swelling in demand, plus a levelling off of supply, that’s expressed itself in rent rises. The fundamental problem that we have with all of this is a supply problem. That’s what’s given us the affordability issues. And instead of, I think as Douglas referred to, instead of dealing with the causes or the root cause, which is a lack of supply, we’re dealing with the symptoms with policies like rent control. And with the cut in the affordable housing supply programme, which just lost another 26% or something in the last budget, plus with the disincentivisation of build-to-rent investment and mid-market rent investment, and also with planning reform, which is also stifling private development, that’s meant the supply problems are likely to get worse instead of better, I think, over the next few years.

Jimmy Black

Douglas, has anyone got the answer to that? Is it just about building more social housing or are there other measures that can be taken? We know about Airbnbs and empty house initiatives. There seem to be various things that are going on, but they don’t seem to be making a lot of difference.

Douglas Robertson

The Airbnb is an interesting one because obviously, we’ve been talking about the decline in the market - a significant proportion of that decline could be attributed to an upswelling of Airbnb. And again, there’s been legislation brought in to try to control the scale of that and whether that’s been successful to date is still to be ascertained.

But the supply side is fundamental. It always has been. And in a sense the social housing sector, if you’re planning a three or four-year programme now, you’ve got real big problems. Just as private investors may have problems with rent control.

If you cannot predict what funding is going to be available, and the Scottish Government has been very clear, maybe it will go down 26%, but there’s no guarantee it will go down again, anybody or any association or local authority with a long-term plan, that’s being put under extreme pressure at the moment. So it does not look good at any level, but I think the fundamental is you have to produce more housing. Or you have to find ways where housing that is not utilised, such as holiday home accommodation and again people have been saying we’ve always got holiday home accommodation issues, but on the islands that’s become really quite significant. You’ve got places where approximately 25% or 26% of the housing lies empty most of the year. So again, all of these things work, but if you’ve got a system which is very much market-based and property is no longer just seen as a place for people to live, but actually as a product to make money from then there are a variety of different ways of doing that.

And that seems to me, we’ve got a private rented sector which has grown very quickly and, following the financial crisis where the whole owner occupation side began to get questioned, we’ve got a far more complex housing system than we ever had, then I think the supply side, particularly in rented accommodation, social rented accommodation, is how you can probably control them. The problem is that we do not seem to have the resources or the commitment to put money into them.

Jimmy Black

Onto other elements of the bill, there is a change for joint tenants. At the moment, after 2016 either of the joint tenants simply can’t get out of the arrangement without the agreement of their flatmates. If you want to leave, you have to convince your flatmates to let you, and then a new tenancy is created by the landlord. There is a proposal coming in that a joint tenant will be able to give two months’ notice to his or her flatmates, saying that they will be leaving and putting out a notice to the landlord ending the tenancy. There will be 28 days after that, if I have understood that properly. Basically, it’s like three month’s notice that the tenancy is going to end and that the one joint tenant doing that will be able to terminate the tenancy for everybody. John, is that going to be helpful or is that going to be a problem for landlords?

John Boyle

It’s difficult to say until we see how it’s going to perform in practice. I do have sympathy for those, having been in the position myself many years ago, where you’re trying to leave a joint tenancy arrangement but finding it difficult because you can’t get everyone to act collectively. So again, I’ve got sympathy for the tenants that find themselves in that position and in some cases this could be through absolutely no fault of their own or they need to get out of a tenancy because of a relationship breakdown or because other people within the tenancy are causing significant issues to them. So I do have sympathy and I think there can be a workaround on this, with sufficient notice period for the landlord, it shouldn’t be a problem.

I know that many landlords expressed concern with the previous legislation about the 28-day notice period. So effectively, all tenancies can be ended with 28-day notice anyway. Now, the Scottish Association of Landlords, and I think a number of agencies including ourselves, did wave a bit of a warning flag on that one and said, “This is not an even-handed approach” but such has been the demand for PRS properties, particularly in your core Edinburgh and Glasgow markets, that’s really not been a problem since the legislation has been introduced. The only time it was a problem really was around about the pandemic when we had a number of our tenants, same for other agents, who just handed in the keys and said, “I’m going back to live with mum and dad”. And then, you know, you found it very difficult to re-let the property after that because of the restrictions. So rents in Edinburgh actually over that period went down, they went down over 4%. They’d been rising at a fairly rapid rate up until that point but advertised rents dropped back. So the market was able to adjust to those conditions.

But that proved to be, because of the demand within the sector, that proved to be something that was manageable. And again, I think it’s something similar here, with the ending of these types of tendency arrangements or making it more flexible to end tendency arrangements. Again, I think because of the demand conditions within those core markets, it should be something that’s workable.

Jimmy Black

Another thing is the tidying up provision of the bill, all assured tenancies will be converted into new private residential tenancies. Is that important Douglas?

Douglas Robertson

Yes, I think one of the interesting features is the presumption that because the old short assured tenancy was a six-month-old tenancy, the government thought that was a very short space of time, instead of just being a new private rent tenancy, and it would be extinguished.

And of course, in recent research, asking tenants about the tenancy, the short assured tenancy still exists. So this must be a rollover or people are issuing new tenancies, which legally should not be under that basis. But it was a very high proportion of people on these old tenancies, who were in a sense I suppose stuck in the tenancies process. So I think we’ve got this new tenancy, this 2016 Act, then getting rid of the old tendencies is very, very important so everybody is on the same basis. And it’s very interesting, slightly funny, is that the tenants basically don’t know what tendency they are on and for the majority of tenants, they do not know what is the nature of the tenancy and what the rights are. So I suppose it’s an improvement, that they’re all on the one form of tenancy, which has a set of rights and responsibilities and that may improve people’s understanding of where they are.

The problem is the relationship. It’s probably in the words landlord and tenant, it’s a very medieval arrangement. It’s a medieval set of terms and in a sense, we discovered also in research, that very few tenants wanted to challenge the landlords because they had a relationship with the landlords and therefore they did not necessarily wish to enact the powers that they had under their tenancy to do that. So it is a very peculiar thing to me, in terms of the arrangement for people to exist where they have rights, but they don’t feel able to exercise them or feel uncomfortable about exercising or unable to exercise.

Kieran Findlay

John, is there anything in the proposed legislation that private landlords or agents such as yourself or financers are in favour of?

John Boyle

Yeah, I think we’ve just kind of gone through many aspects of the tenants’ rights or extending tenants’ rights in the 2016 act as well as in the proposed housing bill, I think there will be a kind of a broad acceptance by the landlord sector. You can tell this by the reaction that you’ve had to the bill already. And the thing that has really come under much closer scrutiny and where a lot of concern has been expressed has been around the rent control aspect of it and we’ve gone into that in some detail and when you lose control of the pricing of your asset that is going to be a concern particularly if you’re in a high inflation world as we were fairly recently with double-digit inflation, and your costs are going up by say 10% and it is perfectly feasible that with this legislation that your revenue is basically frozen. So if you’re operating in that type of environment, you can’t possibly make a viable return. And you will have to leave the sector.

And I think the concern then is that, as I said earlier, this is all being driven by the economic concept of scarcity. So the rents are rising rapidly because of that demand supply inbalance within the market. So if you cap the rents, then the economic concept scarcely needs to find a way out. And we’ve seen this in old command-and-control economies like the Soviet Union where you cap the price of bread but then the shortages of bread because the demand for the bread goes up and the ability of the producers to make a return goes down. So, there’s no bread then and within the shops. And it’s much the same here. You know, it’s the economic concept of scarcity will then express itself in queues and shortages. And that certainly is the experience of relatively harsh rent control regimes as you’ve got in Sweden. The waiting list for a PRS property in Stockholm, for example, is bigger than the entire population of Stockholm. That’s where that policy, that kind of hard rent control policy can take you. So you can get control of your rents, but you’ll find it very difficult to get a PRS property.

Jimmy Black

We’ve talked about what’s in the bill. Has the Scottish Government left out anything important? Is there anything that should have been in the bill?

Thanks, Rosalie.

John Boyle

For me, it’s not a housing bill, it’s a tenants’ rights bill and if it was a proper housing bill, it would be trying to do something about the supply side of the equation. So it would be looking into how we could get more all-tenure housing, whether that’s social housing, affordable housing with a small ‘A’, affordable housing with a big ‘A’, private sector housing, new alternative housing tenures such as build-to-rent and mid-market rent. And it would be working very closely with the relevant players including the RSLs, the local authorities, and the institutional funds to see how we could have a legislative framework and incentivisation framework that’s going to lead to that substantial increase in supply that we think is needed.

We think, based on the evidence that’s been presented around this topic, that we should be building in Scotland around about 25,000 all-tenured units a year. We last built at that level in 2008 and we also got close to it in 2005 to 2007. Before then you’ve got to go back to 1978 and we haven’t built anywhere near those levels since 2008. So this is a problem that has had a relatively long gestation period and now we’re beginning to see, and we have been seeing the consequences of it over time, with affordability, particularly in the sales market. The rental market was a bit more responsive and we didn’t get the same affordability problems until more recently, the last 10 years or so. But we’re now beginning to see the problems also within the PRS market stretching the affordability issues that we’ve discussed and the root cause of it is this lack of supply. So a housing bill or a proper housing bill, I think, would be trying to do something about the supply. And at the moment, there’s nothing really in there about how we’re going to increase supply.

Douglas Robertson

John makes the point, which is back to this whole point, that we do not seem to have a strategic housing policy in Scotland. We’ve got private ownership, we’ve got record prices in Edinburgh, Glasgow, house prices have rocketed. Recently, we’ve got a much more complex set of housing issues with Airbnb coming in, short-term lets and with holiday houses expanding. So we’re dealing with a situation where polarisation between rich and poor has got wider. So those with a lot more money are able to consume a lot more housing and not necessarily just one or two houses. We’ve looked recently at the Rettie site for a nice property that’s for sale in Craill. This is a holiday house and it was over a million pounds. A very nice house don’t get me wrong but you know that’s a million pound holiday house.

We’ve got a really complex housing market that has appeared over the last 20 years. At the same time we’ve walked away from the idea of strategically thinking about how to readdress these housing issues. We’ve left it to the market completely and then we’ve found the market operates the way the market does. Our problem is that from those at the bottom end, we’ve got in Scotland the best, I keep getting told, we’ve got the most advanced rights for homeless people anywhere in the world. But walking through Edinburgh and Glasgow I still see lots of people and that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of homelessness.

We can have all of the legislation we want, unless we’ve got some kind of thinking as to what we do. And that, I do think, we need to get back to having people making decisions that have to have some understanding of it, as opposed to people who are just appearing to do a spin for five years or three years or four years before moving on elsewhere.

I’ve never known that a period where has been so much churn within the civil service. We do not have that skills base to tackle some of these issues and I think that’s why we have this type of legislation coming forward, which is very much virtue signalling and not necessarily addressing the core problems that need to be addressed. And I think that’s, in light of my 40-odd years in housing, I think this is probably the poorest period I can remember in terms of thinking and doing things differently

Kieran Findlay

Okay, we’ll wrap things up there. I did mention in the intro that this is one of three episodes that we will be doing on the housing bill. It is actually, and this will be news to my co-host Jimmy Black. It is four, because we will be speaking to the housing minister, Paul McLennan, and we’ll be bringing up much of the points raised in our… well, not so much this one because he’s not the tenants’ rights minister. I think that goes back to your point, Douglas.

The next episode will be on homelessness, the third episode will be on domestic abuse and the fourth will be an interview with Paul McLennan. So please tune in for them. My thanks to John Boyle, Dr. John Boyle from Rettie, Professor Douglas Robertson, to my co-host Jimmy Black, I’ve been Kieran Findlay and we’ll be back in a couple of weeks.

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