The Scottish Housing Bill 2024: Implications for Rent Control and the Path Ahead

In March 2024, the Scottish Government introduced a comprehensive Housing Bill aimed at reforming the private rental sector. This landmark legislation is set to transform how rents are regulated across Scotland, introducing a national rent control system and local Rent Pressure Zones. The bill’s provisions are designed to protect tenants while ensuring a sustainable rental market for landlords.

The Housing Bill 2024 includes several significant measures:

  1. National Rent Control System: The bill introduces a national framework for rent control, ensuring uniformity across Scotland while allowing for local adaptations.
  2. Local Rent Pressure Zones: Local councils can designate areas as Rent Pressure Zones, subject to approval by Scottish Ministers. This enables targeted rent control in high-demand areas.
  3. Annual Rent Increase Cap: Rent increases will be capped annually, including for new tenancies, preventing landlords from circumventing rent controls by frequently changing tenants.
  4. Exemptions for Improvements: Landlords can apply for exemptions from the rent cap if they make significant improvements to their properties or if the property is new to the market.
  5. Energy Efficiency and Repair Standards: The bill emphasises enhancing energy efficiency and maintaining high repair standards in rental properties, aiming to improve the overall quality of housing.

Market Impact

The introduction of rent control is being introduced so that it will provide much-needed protection for tenants in a tight housing market whilst preventing sudden and unaffordable rent hikes, however, caution should be taken when implementing such measures, as stringent regulations could deter investment in the rental sector and reduce the supply of rental properties, thus adding further issues to the already impacted ‘housing crisis in Scotland.

Goodbye Patrick Harvie

The political landscape surrounding the Housing Bill has shifted with the Green Party’s reduced influence and the departure of Patrick Harvie.  This change will hopefully lead to a more balanced approach to implementing the bill.

Under the new regime, there is potential for policies that encourage both tenant protection and market viability. A balanced approach could involve:

  • Ensuring that rent controls are fair and do not discourage landlords from maintaining or expanding their rental portfolios.
  • Providing incentives for landlords to improve energy efficiency and repair standards, aligning with broader environmental goals.
  • Fostering landlord confidence to maintain and increase the supply of rental housing, critical for meeting demand.

For the Scottish rental market to thrive, the government must foster an environment that balances regulation with market incentives. Ensuring that rent control measures are practical and fair will be key to maintaining landlord investment in the market. Additionally, policies should support the entry of new landlords and encourage investment in rental properties to increase housing supply.

Looking ahead, the success of the Housing Bill will depend on its implementation and the government’s ability to adapt policies in response to market dynamics. Ongoing dialogue within the sector, including tenant groups and landlord associations, will be crucial for refining the bill’s provisions and ensuring that it meets its goals of protecting tenants and sustaining a healthy rental market.

Finally …

The government lacks understanding of the rental sector, actively deters rental investment, and has significantly contributed to the current housing crisis in Scotland.

The bill arrives amid growing concerns about the housing situation across Scotland. Earlier this year, the Scottish government slashed £196m from its affordable housing budget, and quarterly figures released on Tuesday reported the lowest number of housing association starts since 1988.

Four councils—Argyll and Bute, Edinburgh, Fife, and Glasgow—have declared a “housing emergency.” Furthermore, recent data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that Scotland has experienced the highest rent increases of any UK nation.

This rise has occurred despite ministers introducing temporary legislation in 2022 aimed at capping rents to address the cost of living crisis. The data indicated that average private rents increased by 10.9% in Scotland, 8.8% in England, and 9% in Wales.

Rent Controls which have NOT worked in Europe 

Rent controls, which are government regulations that cap the rent a landlord can charge, have been a contentious issue in various parts of Europe. While these measures aim to make housing more affordable, they can also lead to several problems, including reduced housing supply, lower quality of housing, and distortions in the rental market. Here are some parts of Europe where rent controls have caused significant issues:

1. Berlin, Germany

Berlin’s rent control measures, such as the “Mietendeckel” (rent cap) introduced in 2020, have led to notable problems:

  • Housing Supply: The cap reduced incentives for landlords to maintain or improve their properties, leading to a decline in housing quality and new construction.
  • Market Distortion: A black market for rental agreements emerged, where tenants paid under-the-table to secure a lease.
  • Legal Challenges: The rent cap was ultimately struck down by Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court in 2021, creating uncertainty and financial losses for landlords and investors .

2. Sweden

Sweden has long-standing rent control policies that have created several issues:

  • Housing Shortage: Strict controls have led to a significant housing shortage, especially in major cities like Stockholm. The demand for rental housing far exceeds supply.
  • Queue System: Potential tenants often face waiting periods of several years to get an apartment through the official queue system.
  • Subletting Issues: High demand has led to a rise in subletting at inflated prices, further distorting the market .

3. Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona implemented rent controls in 2020 to curb rapidly rising rents, resulting in several challenges:

  • Reduced Investment: The new regulations have discouraged investment in rental properties, leading to a reduction in the supply of rental housing.
  • Quality Concerns: Landlords have less incentive to maintain their properties, potentially leading to a decline in the quality of housing available.
  • Market Exit: Some property owners have chosen to sell their properties rather than rent them out under the new regulations, further reducing the rental stock .

4. Paris, France

Paris has a history of rent control measures aimed at curbing high rental prices, which have led to various problems:

  • Compliance Issues: Many landlords find ways to circumvent the rules, such as by charging higher rents for furnished apartments, which are not subject to the same controls.
  • Housing Market Rigidity: The strict regulations make the rental market less flexible, making it harder for tenants to find suitable housing quickly.
  • Investment Decline: Similar to other cities, there has been a decline in investment in the rental market, affecting the overall availability of rental housing .

5. Dublin, Ireland

Dublin has faced difficulties with its rent control measures:

  • Housing Crisis: Despite rent controls, Dublin continues to experience a severe housing crisis with high rents and low availability.
  • Quality and Supply: The controls have not effectively addressed the underlying supply issues, leading to persistent housing shortages and concerns over housing quality .

In summary, while rent controls are intended to make housing more affordable, they often lead to unintended consequences such as reduced housing supply, market distortions, and decreased investment in the rental market.