THE Scottish Government has published controversial legislation which could freeze rents and ban evictions for 18 months, three times longer than first indicated.

The Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Bill is due to go through Holyrood in just three days this week, starting with a committee evidence session tomorrow morning.

Announced by Nicola Sturgeon in her programme for government last month, the emergency legislation is intended to help tenants get through the cost of living crisis.

It is vehemently opposed by some landlord groups and expected to attract legal challenges. 

The legislation would give ministers the temporary power to cap rents for both private and social tenancies, and student halls, from 6 September to “at least” 31 March next year.

It would also empower ministers to extend the initial freeze and eviction ban “for two subsequent six-month periods”, according to the notes accompanying the Bill.

Ms Sturgeon had told MSPs the steps would be "temporary measures", adding: "We envisage that both measures will remain in place until at least the end of March next year.”

For the first six months, the cap would be set at 0 per cent, freezing rents, except if landlords faced specific extra costs, although even then any rise would be limited to 3%.

The level of the cap would be reviewed after six months.

Any rent increases issued since the First Minister announced the measure on September 6 will be declared void.  

There would also be a moratorium on evictions for an initial six months, except in cases of criminal or anti-social behaviour by tenants, or where landlords had to sell or move back into properties because of financial hardship.

Landlords will be able to begin eviction proceedings against tenants, but they cannot be removed from the property until the end of the restrictions.

Damages for unlawful evictions will be increased to a maximum of 36 months’ worth of rent.

The Government said the legislation included “safeguards for private sector landlords”, including allowing them to apply to raise rent in specific circumstances. 

These include increased mortgage interest payments on the property they are letting, an increase in landlords’ insurance or increases in service charges paid as part of a tenancy.

Scottish Green co-leader and Tenants’ Rights Minister Patrick Harvie said: “The cost-of-living crisis is an emergency situation demanding an emergency response. 

“Even as energy, food bills and other day-to-day basics become more expensive, today’s legislation freezing rents and protecting tenants from eviction will give tenants stability in their homes and confidence about their housing costs.

“People who rent their homes are more likely to live in poverty or be on low incomes than homeowners. As such they are particularly exposed to rising prices, and it is imperative that we bring in support for them urgently.

“We know that many landlords have been doing what they can to protect their tenants, but some tenants are being hit with large rent increases that are hard to justify.

"This legislation aims to protect all tenants from substantial increases, balancing the protections that are urgently needed for tenants with safeguards for those landlords who may also be impacted by the cost crisis.”

Green MSP Ariane Burgess, who earlier this year opposed a Labour plan for a rent freeze as it would legally "unworkeble", welcomed the new version.

She said: “This will be a crucial week for tenants all across Scotland

“We are living through the worst cost crisis for generations, with inflation soaring and bills skyrocketing. 

“One of the biggest expenses people have is housing, which is why this emergency legislation is so important. It provides immediate support to tenants at the sharp end of the crisis this winter. 

"This approach stands in stark contrast to the cruelty and incompetence of the UK Government and its so-called mini-budget, which was a multi-billion pound giveaway to the bankers, the polluters and the super wealthy. 

“Over the course of this parliamentary term we will be introducing the biggest expansion of tenants rights since devolution, including better rights and protections and rent controls. 

"This was a core part of the partnership agreement between the Scottish Greens and the Scottish Government. That vital work continues.  

“No home can be left behind if we are to build a recovery that works for people and communities.

“With the powers of an independent country, Scotland could do so much more to tackle the cost crisis head on. But today’s Bill shows that with the Scottish Greens working constructively in government, we are leading the way once again.”

Tory MSP Miles Briggs said: "This is a prime example as to why this legislation needs and deserves more Parliamentary scrutiny rather than being pushed through this week.

"Experts including housing associations have warned ministers that a rent freeze for six months will have an adverse effect on supporting tenants as well as diluting supply in the housing market.

"They will be deeply concerned that these controls could now be in place for three times as long.

"The SNP-Green Government might believe this policy will work but the reality has been shown to be far different elsewhere when it has occurred before. 

"There is an urgent need for them to be fully transparent over what this bill will actually include."

David Melhuish, director of the Scottish Property Federation, said: "Scotland faces a chronic undersupply of rental housing across both public, private and student accommodation sectors, and this emergency legislation will make this situation much worse.

"There is a pipeline of new rented private accommodation estimated to be £3.5billion earmarked for Scotland.

"We fear this legislation will now undermine the likelihood of many of these complex and capital-intensive projects actually being delivered any time soon.

"Housing providers are not responsible for the cost-of-living crisis but have been singled out by the Scottish Government’s proposals that miss the critical need to attract new investment to the sector.

"The only way that pressure will be reduced on the rented sector in Scotland is by increasing the supply of new, well maintained and energy efficient homes for rent.

"New housing must become the policy priority, not blunt instruments singling out landlords, many of whom work hard to support their tenants. 

‘We call on the Scottish Government to recognise the vital contribution that the rented sector makes to communities across Scotland and to support those that are looking to fund and develop new homes here.

"Support must now be offered to housing providers affected by any withdrawal of rent resulting from the proposed moratorium, they too are impacted by the upwards pressure on costs and rising interest rates."