The ‘cliff edge’ looming for Scottish tenants.

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“I live in a two-bedroom in Partick, a modern build. It was £695 a month, and went up to £895 a month [when? Add in the brackets], which is a significant amount, especially post-Covid, when things were a lot more uncertain than they are now.

“Fast-forward to November. My letting agent sent me a letter trying to raise the rent by 6%. They hadn’t actually applied to the rent officer by that point, which they have to do by law. I said I would accept 3%, and the landlord can get in touch with the rent officer and apply for the additional 3% as he has to by law.

“I didn’t hear anything until January, when I got a notice to leave. So basically, I’ve been told I have to leave, and I got ten-weeks’ notice.”

Barbara Welsh has lived in Glasgow’s West End since 2008. Under legislation introduced in the summer of 2022, the Glasgow university administrator received protection against any rent increases above 3%. After her landlord failed to obtain his sought after 6% increase, he decided to sell Barbara’s flat, and she was forced to find new accommodation.

Barbara is one of a growing number of renters across Scotland facing what another campaigner described as a ‘cliff-edge’. With emergency legislation set to expire in April, existing protections will give way to much looser restrictions on price increases landlord can implement.

The legislation

According to the Scottish Parliamentary Information Centre (SPICe), “the Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Act 2022 was passed by the Scottish Parliament as a temporary response to the impact of the cost crisis on those living in the rented sector.”

The legislation placed restrictions on landlords in the private rental sector (PRS), constraining their attempts at increasing rent to once in a calendar year, and that the maximum increase they could impose at any given time was 3%. 6% was permitted in ‘exceptional circumstances.’

But with the policy expiring April 1st, there is a risk that the swathes of tenants in positions similar to Barbara could also be forced into precarious positions.

New legislation is currently being drafted, but until that is made into law, temporary legislation will take as of April. That will lift the cap on rent increases from 3% to 12%, and could have a significant effect on renters across Glasgow.

For Barbara the eviction represents more than not having a roof over her head: “It means I have to move out of my local community, where I’ve got roots. I’ve been living there for the last sixteen years.”

The issues facing tenants in Glasgow are a microcosm of what’s facing renters across Scotland. The situation, according to Calum Sanderstone, a 24-year-old law student in Edinburgh, is hardly different in his city.

“I think there’s this tendency now, and it happens in Glasgow, it happens in Edinburgh, where communities are just decimated. You grow up somewhere, your family lives there, and when it comes time when you’re trying to make your own way in the world, you’ve just got no option to be where you want to be. Your communities are getting blown apart.”

“You just end up with places that feel kind of hollow. I’m in Leith at the moment, and a good few of my mates have said that they love this place, but that they will never be able to own a property here. I can barely afford to rent one.”

Incoming controls

A new Bill published last Wednesday by the Scottish Government promises to provide an updated set of protections for tenants. The legislation would require conditions around rent hikes to be considered in a tribunal, and would provide rent control between tenancies.

Renters’ groups have praised the decision, and Councillor Martha Wardrop, a Green Party Glasgow City Councillor for Hillhead in Glasgow’s West End, says that she is confident that this legislation can help make a difference.

However, Councillor Wardrop, who chairs the City Council’s Economy, Housing, Transport and Regeneration City Policy Committee, did also acknowledge that the immediate future for private renters in Glasgow is bleak.

“Obviously, [the expiry of the current rent cap] could lead to quite a lot of distress for private sector tenants receiving letters from landlords about increased rent, and many of them will struggle with dealing with it.”

The cost of living crisis has hit people across Britain. Councillor Wardrop recognises the unique pressures of the day are impacting everyone, and that includes landlords:

“Landlords are under pressure with costs going up. Inflation has gone up and obviously they are concerned about repairs and maintenance of their properties as costs are rising. It’s quite tricky for them as well appreciate that.”

However, as in Barbara’s case, even relatively slight increases in rent prices at the wrong time can have major consequences for tenants.

UK Consumer Price Index (CPI) figures show that inflation dropped to 3.4% in February, down from 4%, and considerably closer to the Bank of England’s 2% target. This is down from 10.1% in March last year.

Calum, however, is keen to make it clear that this does not mean that the cost of living crisis has alleviated and given tenants’ purse strings the wiggle room to afford large increases in their rent.

“The notion that this March as opposed to last March that I and thousands of other tenants are in an easier position to pay up to a 12% increase is a complete fantasy.

“There have been no significant changes nor any significant increases in support that I believe justifies that.”

According to a report tracking rent prices for two-bed properties across Scotland. the Scottish Government published in November 2023, between 2010 and 2023, “average rents have increased above CPI inflation of 45.7% in Greater Glasgow (86.2%) [and] in Lothian (79.3%).”

With Glasgow rent prices almost double the rate of inflation since 2010, private renters’ pockets have been stretched considerably more than an average consumer, the data suggests. This is a long-term trend that has grown steeper over the last few years, and with rental properties declining, the pressure on housing markets showing no signs of easing.

There are, as Councillor Wardrop points out, safer and more sustainable options for renters.

“Most people would like to rent from housing associations, because it’s more secure tenure and it’s more affordable.”

But while it may be preferrable, that doesn’t mean it’s readily available. Critically, the social housing sector is facing mounting challenges of its own. In March, Fife councillor Judy Hamilton told the Full Council that Fife is facing unprecedented pressure on housing and homelessness services. No more than five months before this, Glasgow and Edinburgh councils declared their own housing emergencies

And while councils across the country have been announcing crises, in its last budget the Scottish Government decided to slash housing by £196m.

Commenting on the critical situation of social housing across Scotland, Brian McLaughlin, Media Officer at the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) said:

“It’s clear that we’re in a housing emergency, with private rents at unaffordable levels. A crucial part of the answer to that is delivering more social homes.

“Despite this, the Scottish Government has pushed through a disastrous £196m cut to the affordable housing budget which will have devastating consequences for tackling poverty and homelessness in Scotland.

“Until there is sustained public investment in affordable rented housing, then we will see more people trapped in temporary accommodation, more homelessness, and more private renters struggling to make ends meet.”

There is a real risk that the pressures facing the housing sector, and especially those in privately rented home, could result in a homelessness crisis, Calum says:

“The Scottish Homelessness Monitor has predicted homelessness to rise by a third in the next two years. Far from tackling homelessness, we’re actually exacerbating it. I feel that we often dance around what these high rent increases mean – they’re an eviction by other means.

“If this is happening up and down the country, then it’s not as if you can move to somewhere that’s cheaper. People have to live in the area they work in, it’s as simple as that.”

If Barbara’s account is anything to go by, then for Glasgow tenants, the future is uncertain. As Councillor Wardrop points out, there is much for Glaswegians to be proud of in their city.

“There’s a lot happening. Following on from the Commonwealth Games, we had COP 26. It’s the European city capital sport this year. And it’s a UNESCO city of music. So there’s a lot of investment going in sport and supporting sport, art, culture.”

But for all the great things the city has to offer, it seems fair to wonder whether it might be becoming increasingly difficult for people to live in it.

Tenants hopeful.

It’s highly possible that the rent controls in Patrick Harvie’s Bill contribute towards a recalibration in the housing sector.

It has been labelled a ‘huge step forward’ by Living Rent, but there is no guarantee that it will come to offer the protections it promises. Last week saw an English Renters Reform Bill receive significant modification after pushback from Conservative MPs concerned about an excessive burden on landlords.

Despite the mounting pressure on tenants in precarious positions, as well as the disruption these events have caused in Barbara’s life, she isn’t jaded by her eviction.

“To be honest, it’s actually energized me, a bit. When it happened, I was just like, ‘let’s carry on with what I’m doing.’ But I’m standing for national committee this weekend, because it’s just fired me up to show that I want to help young people that are in a similar position. And I want to make sure that those in power making all the decisions listen to us.”

Calum, who is currently in the middle of exam season, concurs:

“I think hopelessness is a bit pointless. You need to just hope things will get better, otherwise you’ve got no chance of making them better.”

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