Last month Nicola Sturgeon announced the Scottish Government’s 2015-16 programme of government. In it, on the back of an enormous campaigning and lobbying effort by the Living Rent Campaign, was a commitment to introduce provisions for rent controls.
Further, the First Minister outlined plans to scrap short-assured tenancies and the no-fault grounds for eviction. These laws, introduced by Thatcher in the eighties, meant tenants in Scotland have some of the worst protections from eviction and least secure leases anywhere in Europe.
This is, without a doubt, an enormous victory for the campaigners who have spent the last year up and down the country gathering consultation responses and petition signatures, marching and demonstrating outside dodgy letting agents, building links with trade unions and the workers’ movement, meeting and lobbying with MSPs and MPs, forcing the issue of poverty and insecurity in the private rented sector high up the agenda of Scottish politics, and comprehensively winning the argument that the market has failed and is incapable of delivering secure, affordable housing.
The Living Rent Campaign has built a coalition of organisations representing more than a million people behind their call for rent controls, and made waves within the SNP, Labour, Greens and RISE, Scotland’s new Left alliance. It is hard to imagine the First Minister announcing what she did without the stakhanovite efforts of tenant activists in every corner of the country.
But with the positives out of the way, let’s have some pessimism.
Firstly, there are lots of questions to be asked. The programme of government outlines provisions to introduce “local rent controls” in “rent pressure areas.” It doesn’t say anything about how these rent controls would work or what constitutes or, who decides what is, a rent pressure area.
Secondly, rent controls aren’t just about cost. There are parts of Scotland where rent isn’t comparatively expensive, but where there do exist chronic issues of poor quality housing. Rent controls linked to quality, such as the model that exists in the Netherlands, are the most efficient way of forcing up standards, by giving landlords an immediate financial incentive to make repairs. It is unclear whether there will be scope within the provisions outlined to have this effect.
That said, and even with those caveats, this is an enormous step forward for private tenants in Scotland and we have come a long way. The argument has been won that the free market is unable to deliver secure, affordable housing.
But there is a long way still to go, and only an active, vibrant, and organised tenants’ movement will take us those next steps.
That is why it is imperative that everybody who wants to see a model of housing in Scotland that puts tenants and human need before profit for speculators and landlords gets involved in the Living Rent Campaign, and helps us make it happen.