A national rent freeze is the “first and minimum” step needed to bring Scotland’s undersupplied rental market under control, an MSP suggested.  

Rent controls and a sustained focus on housebuilding have been listed as crucial priorities by two Labour MSPs.  

SNP MSP Elena Whitham also urged for housing to be put at the “forefront of our minds”, stating that three of the most basic necessities, shelter, food, and warmth, have been placed under a “huge amount of pressure” due to the cost-of-living crisis, 

Emergency legislation for a rent freeze and eviction ban is set to be pushed through Holyrood over the course of three days next week.  

However, the Scottish Association of Landlords has warned the plan could force more landlords to sell their property. 

Previously in our rental crisis series: 

Those advocating for the emergency legislation emphasised that there is still a long way to go to support tenants, many who are struggling to find accommodation to rent as demand soars over supply in parts of the country.  

Scottish Labour MSP Katy Clark said: “I think there has to be a rent freeze, but it isn’t a long-term solution. 

“We’re hearing some really alarming stories of really dire situations that people are facing,” she added.  

“It is every section of the community that relies on the private letting sector that’s affected. This is a problem in almost every community in Scotland

“What we’ve seen since 2010 is massive increases in the level of rents in the private sector. 

“It’s quite a blunt instrument - a rent freeze. I think that is the right thing to do, but we also need to look at how we speed up the process towards introducing a fair system for everybody.” 

HeraldScotland: Katy ClarkKaty Clark (Image: PA)

Part of that fair system would consist of rent controls that give local authorities a “central role, is evidence based, and designed to support and encourage landlords to improve the quality of rental properties.” 

Fellow Scottish Labour MSP Mercedes Villalba, who called for a rent freeze in June, added: “A rent freeze is welcome but it’s the first and minimum step we need to take. We need to regulate short term rent and we need to introduce rent controls across the board.” 

She said the freeze must last until a national system of strengthened rent controls can be introduced.  

However, she voiced concerns that “everyone has a different view of what rent controls means” and insisted measures must include a reduction to current rents.  

She said: “There's a worry that the Scottish Government are going to say that we already have rent controls or that rent controls will be, for instance, limiting the number of times rents can be increased. For it to be effective rents need to be reduced and capped.”  

Both of the Scottish Labour MSP pushed for the Scottish Government’s upcoming housing bill to be made a priority in Holyrood.  

SNP MSP Ms Whitham said: “Anything from the emergency legislations will inform a wider housing bill going forward.   

“It's really hard to figure out in the immediate timeframe, aside from trying to freeze tenancy rents and making a moratorium on evictions to protect people that are actually in properties.  

“There's no magic wand that's going to be able to solve an issue of availability at the moment.” 

She said the housing policy is coming “as quickly as it can” and added the reason Scotland has reached “crisis point in terms of housing in some areas” is that the market has become “skewed because of the availability”.  

The Scottish Government has begun delivering on a commitment to provide 110,000 affordable homes by 2032, but the closures of building sites when the Covid pandemic first hit will have an impact.  

Ms Whitham said: “Everything ground to a halt for a while.   

“Once things started to open back up again, we then found was that there was a huge increase in costs, a global shortage of materials and the impact of Brexit. You had a perfect storm and everything converging at once.” 

It is important more is done to address Scotland’s “chronic” housing shortage, Ms Clark said. 

She added: “There is no sign of significant housebuilding at the levels that will deal with the housing crisis in Scotland. 

“That’s not just about the private sector but also about the public sector and the availability of council housing and other forms of social housing, which has been a problem for many decades now. 

“If we don’t step up and take accelerated action to resolve the medium and long-term problems, we’re not going to move forward.”   

Nevertheless, the Scottish Conservatives warned that the rent freeze will only worsen the problem of housing supply. MSP Miles Briggs said the policy will be “damaging to people looking to rent”.

“With the SNP Government already failing to meet their own housebuilding targets, policies such as this will mean less money for developments and fewer homes to live in – a shortage that could not come at a worse time," he said. 

“The best way to ensure that both tenants and the sector are getting the best deal is to ensure that housebuilding targets are met and met as soon as possible."

Ms Whitham emphasises that the whole sector needs to come together to support more housing.  

She said: “We need to make sure we don't lose sight of not just the socially rented aspects and not just protections for tenants in the private sector, but where do the private house builder fit into the picture and how can they help address some of the other issues as well? 

“I would appeal to everybody across the sector to work together to make sure that we can realize it as quickly as we can.”