Rent freeze Bill passes first stage at Holyrood

Legislation that would temporarily freeze rents and ban evictions in Scotland has passed its first stage in the Scottish Parliament.

MSPs backed the general principles of the Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Bill by 88 votes to 29 on Tuesday evening.

Stage two amendments will be taken on Wednesday and a final vote will happen on Thursday.

A motion to treat the Bill as emergency legislation was passed by 86 votes to 28 earlier on Tuesday.

Patrick Harvie

The Scottish Government minister appeared at a Holyrood committee on Tuesday ahead of the Bill being debated (Jane Barlow/PA)

The Scottish Tories voiced their opposition to the move, citing a lack of time for MSPs to properly understand the Bill – which was introduced and published on Monday evening.

Meanwhile, Patrick Harvie, the Scottish Government’s tenants’ rights minister, also addressed concerns that the Bill would reduce the supply of rented housing.

On Tuesday morning, Mr Harvie appeared at Holyrood’s Local Government Committee.

The Scottish Green Party minister said the Bill had three main aims: stabilizing costs by freezing rent until at least March 31, introducing a moratorium on evictions and reducing unlawful evictions.

Under the legislation, rent increases will be frozen at 0% until March 31, backdated to September 6, with ministers having powers to extend this for two further six-month periods if necessary.

He told the committee: “The legislation we’re proposing will help keep people in their homes and help stabilize their housing costs during this extraordinary costs crisis.

“We believe the package of measures strikes the right balance between this aim and ensuring landlords can continue to offer properties for rent and manage tenancies sustainably.”

The minister said he did not believe the Bill would lead to many tenants refusing to pay rent.

Miles Briggs

The Scottish Tory MSP Miles Briggs said there would be unintended consequences stemming from the legislation (Lesley Martin/PA)

During a debate in Holyrood on Tuesday afternoon, Tory MSP Miles Briggs said ministers had failed to conduct a proper consultation as he set out the Conservatives’ views on the Bill.

The legislation risked undermining investment in new affordable homes and decarbonisation, he said.

Mr Briggs said: “SNP, Green and Labor MSPs are about to use Scotland as a guinea pig and undermines the foundations of Scotland’s housing market.”

Labor MSP Mark Griffin said that “even if it has taken months to get to this point”, his party welcomed “the change of heart” from the Scottish Government.

But Willie Rennie said the Scottish Liberal Democrats were concerned about the inclusion of social rented and mid-market rental properties in the legislation.

Earlier on Tuesday, the committee heard from representatives of a number of groups with interest in the legislation.

John Blackwood, chief executive of the Scottish Association of Landlords, said the Bill was “not proportionate”, adding that some landlords were already seeing increased mortgage costs.

He said the Bill appeared to be “watered down” from the First Minister’s statement several weeks ago, but some landlords had been “spooked” by the changes.

Mr Blackwood said: “Lots of landlords still don’t know what it means to them. Rents can still go up and evictions can still take place.”

However, Caroline Crawley, a member of the tenants’ union Living Rent, urged MSPs to back the Bill.

She said rents were “increasing at insane rates”, with figures in the Glasgow area going up by 30% in the last decade and 42% in the Lothian region.

She said: “It’s just truly unaffordable for people who are working, never mind people who are on benefits.”

The loophole that allows rent increases as people move between tenancies should be closed, she said.

Aaron Hill, of the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, said extending the freeze beyond March 31 would be an ineffective method of tackling the cost-of-living crisis.

Such an extension would cost housing associations £50 million in the first year, rising to £200 million over four years, he said.

He told the committee: “What that adds up to is fewer homes being built, fewer homes being retrofitted to zero-carbon standards and less service provision in terms of tenants and support than can be offered to them.”

Social rents in Scotland are around half of private rents and are among the lowest in the UK, he added.

The Bill will cover the private and social rented sector, as well as student accommodation.