Rent control consultation slammed as ‘not fit for purpose’

A new consultation by the Scottish government on rented sector reform has received criticism from the industry for imposing its own choices rather than listening to any new ideas from respondents.

Related topics:  Landlords,  government,  Rental market,  reform,  Scotland
Property | Reporter
9th October 2023
rent
"It imposes choices on respondents, effectively forcing them to adopt one of the prescribed options, even if they have reservations or alternative ideas to propose. It's a very restrictive approach that doesn't truly reflect the complexity of the issues at hand"
- Neil Cobbold - PayProp UK

Consultation a concern

The new consultation, which includes long-term rent controls, pets in rental properties, tenant modifications to a property, eviction protection, uses for unclaimed deposits and social rented sector measures was released to little fanfare on 29 September 2023.

However, it has raised industry concerns due to its prescriptive response options, failing to allow for genuinely diverse perspectives within the private rented sector.

Expressing qualified concerns, Neil Cobbold, managing director of leading client accounting and automated rental payment specialists, PayProp UK said: "This consultation, while addressing some key issues within the Scottish rental sector, is not fit for purpose. It imposes choices on respondents, effectively forcing them to adopt one of the prescribed options, even if they have reservations or alternative ideas to propose. It's a very restrictive approach that doesn't truly reflect the complexity of the issues at hand."

Stricter rent controls proposed

According to the consultation stakeholder paper from the Scottish government, “It is proposed that rent controls would apply to increases in rent that take place both during a tenancy and where the rent is set for a new tenant". In qualification, it also states that the government is “considering whether it would be appropriate, in certain circumstances, to allow an increase in rent that is in excess of the rent cap.”

The government also acknowledges that “some landlords choose not to increase rents during the course of a tenancy, and instead prefer to increase rents between tenancies”. If rent controls apply both within and between tenancies, the paper suggests that “landlords may move to increase rent during tenancies, [which] they would not have done before”. The paper promises to address this in future proposals.

Cobbold says if landlords are restricted in how much they can raise rents outside tenancies, this could encourage them to automatically apply the biggest rent increase they can during tenancies, raising rents for a greater number of tenants annually.

However, the consultation does suggest the Scottish government is considering a rent control exemption for build-to-rent providers, admitting that “some investors may see rent control as a deterrent to investment”.

Cobbold adds that this will be perceived as unfair, as it could leave private landlords being restricted in how much they can raise rents whilst large-scale corporate property owners would be allowed to increase rents as they see fit.

Other measures

Further permanent eviction protections are also under consideration, including whether evictions should be delayed during winter, or where it would cause financial hardship to the tenant.

However, the consultation also suggests that the tribunal should also consider if a delay would “detrimentally affect the landlords’ health or long-term disability or cause financial hardship”.

In addition, the consultation is also considering views on several other PRS issues, including whether all remaining assured and short-assured tenancies should become open-ended private residential tenancies.

Respondents are also being asked to consider if tenants should be allowed to ‘personalise’ their rented accommodation by painting and decorating the rented property or to keep pets, and what should be done with unclaimed tenancy deposits.

The right to keep a pet is similar to measures found within the Renters (Reform) Bill in England.

Industry response crucial

While letting agents are encouraged to respond to the consultation, speaking to their MSP will be key, advises Cobbold.

He says: “Ultimately, no matter what the overall response to the consultation is, it will be your MSP that will scrutinise, amend and ultimately vote on these measures. Letting agents can demonstrate their experience and expertise by highlighting to their MSPs the issues that both tenants and landlords will face with the various proposals under consideration.”

Interested parties have until 27 October to respond to the Scottish government’s consultation.

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