Making renting right

Today at full Council, Green housing spokesperson Cllr Steve Burgess, secured council backing for Shelter Scotland’s Make Renting Right campaign.  He explains why:

Edinburgh has the largest private rented sector in Scotland – over a quarter of the City’s homes are privately rented now. My proposal asked the Council to sign up to the campaign being run by housing charity Shelter Scotland to modernise private renting, giving greater security and stability for tenants.  My motion, which was seconded by the Council’s housing spokesperson, Cllr Cammy Day, is set out below:

1. Welcomes Shelter Scotland’s ‘Make Renting Right’ campaign and supports the charity’s calls for reform of the private rented sector so therefore supports Shelter Scotland’s calls for a private rented sector that:

  •  offers stability for people wanting to make rented housing their home,
  • provides flexibility for people to stay in their home as long as they need
  • provides a modern tenancy that gives security and flexibility for tenants AND landlords
  • Ensures a fair system for sorting out renting problems when they occur; and
  • Ensures predictable rents for tenants and landlords.

2. Notes that the Council’s response to the Scottish Government’s consultation on a new tenancy for the private rented sector in December 2014 sought to increase security for tenants, whilst not putting supply at risk.

3. Notes the ongoing partnership working with landlords through the Private Rented Sector forum and the Housing Service’s efforts over recent months to crack down on poor landlord practices.

4. Requests that the Leader and Depute Leader sign up to Shelter Scotland’s campaign.

Steve BurgegssThe Council overwhelmingly backed this motion – Greens, Labour, SNP, LibDems and Independent. Only the Conservatives opposed it, sadly defaulting to “market knowing best” ideology and seemingly ignorant of swingeing 17% rent rises in Lothian over the last 4 years.  The Conservatives also fixated on rent controls which are not mentioned in a motion aimed at achieving broad cross-party consensus.

As it happens, I do think there is a case for having some upper limits on market rents and also a mechanism to control rent rises during a tenancy period. The latter is also, it seems, Labour policy, as its 2015 Scottish manifesto says: “We will continue to fight for a better deal for people in the private rented sector. We will limit rent reviews to one per year and control rent rises.”

In housing, the market does not always know best, as successive boom and bust cycles amply demonstrate. And plenty of other European countries operate caps on rents much less painfully than has been the case in the UK historically.  Certainly, there’s still some analysis to be done on how best to modify rents and what the impacts might be.  Other parties are not as ready as I am for that analysis, so today’s motion was a genuine attempt to establish consensus on the need for reform.

Fundamentally, of course, rents are too high because land values are too high and too volatile – which is why Greens support Land Value Tax as a radical measure to fund services, drawing on the unearned wealth of rises in land values.  That’s not going to happen overnight, so that is why it is right to support campaigns like Shelter’s (and Living Rent) now – seeking real modernisation of tenancy conditions, better protection for tenants and backing landlords who are interested in providing a good and lasting service rather than turning a quick profit.

The city’s 60,000 private tenants deserve that.