LANDLORDS have hiked up bills and refused to carry out repairs amid plans to give tenants a fairer deal by capping soaring rents.

MSPs on Holyrood’s Local Government and Communities Committee have been warned that the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the lack of power tenants have over landlords.

The committee heard evidence Labour MSP Pauline MacNeill’s proposals for the Fair Rents Bill, which would halt private landlords from increasing rents by more than the CPI measure of inflation plus one per cent.

The Bill is now being considered by MSPs after a u-turn amid initial fears they would not be enough time to consider the plans before the May Holyrood election.

The proposals will also allow private tenants to apply at any time to a rent officer for a “fair open market rent” to be set for a property. In deciding the application, the officer would take into account matters like whether the property has poor energy efficiency or is in a bad condition.

Gordon Maloney, national committee member of tenants’ organisation Living Rent, said the pandemic has led to some landlords acting “disgracefully”.

He said: “In the Scottish Association of Landlords’ response, they cite a handful of examples of cases where landlords have been fairly generous with their tenants.

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“We could cite just as many examples of cases where landlords have frankly acted disgracefully – hiking rents, refusing to make repairs, treating tenants appallingly over the course of the last 12 months.”

He said the system of rent pressure zones introduced in 2016 had not led to substantial changes for tenants.

Any moves to curb rents should consider the fact that rents have been rising above inflation by around 40% over the last decade in places like Glasgow and Edinburgh, Mr Maloney said.

He added: “Having a cap of inflation plus 1%, there’s a very real risk that that acts as an incentive and for that reason we would support a stronger measure that imposes stricter limits in some places.

“If one of the consequences of reducing rents is that landlords choose to sell properties, perhaps to families currently renting who would much rather buy, I think that’s something we should welcome and embrace.”

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John Blackwood, chief executive of the Scottish Association of Landlords, told MSPs that the Scottish Government needed to collect better data on rents which were actually being charged in the sector.

He said: “My concern is that actually this Bill will just further exasperate that, we believe it will result in higher rent and more frequent rent increase.”

Ms McNeill, a member of the committee, asked Mr Blackwood why private rent increases had been higher than inflation for Greater Glasgow and the Lothians over the past decade.

He said an affordable social housing sector was needed so private accommodation could become “the sector of choice rather than last resort”.

Costs of repairs could exceed inflation, he said, adding: “Any link to CPI as suggested within the Bill is almost irrelevant to actually what landlords need to invest in the property.”