Landlords are getting around the Scottish Government cap on rent increases by exploiting a loophole in the law, tenants and activists have warned.

A temporary freeze came into effect in September 2022 in response to the cost of living crisis, which means that rents cannot be raised by more than 3 per cent. That can only be applied if there hasn’t been an increase in the past 12 months.

However, the cap can be exceeded if the tenant and landlord both agree and The Herald can reveal this loophole is being exploited to hike costs for renters.

Landlords have told tenants that they will either sell the property or move into it themselves if an increase is not agreed to, effectively forcing occupiers to accept or be evicted.

Jude, 23, and Lawrence, 22, are a student and part-time bar worker/part-time forestry worker in Edinburgh. Their second names have been omitted to avoid issues in applying for future rental properties.

The pair moved into a property and agreed to pay the equivalent of 12 months’ rent over a period of nine months, paying more per month and getting three ‘free’ months as their landlord wanted to ensure the flat was occupied in the summer.

The Herald: EMBARGOED TO 0001 FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 30..File photo dated 22/09/20 of tenement flats along Comely Bank in Edinburgh, as some 30% of people who rent their homes were finding it difficult to pay their rent before the current cost of living crisis hit,

However, when they announced their intention to move out they were told that the higher nine-month price was the fixed monthly amount.

Jude tells The Herald: “It’s not really much more complicated than an illegal rent increase, but the specificity of the contract makes it a bit cryptic.

“We have it all in writing and it’s pretty clear but the landlord’s trying to claim that the higher rate we’re paying, the one-month-plus-a-third or whatever it is, is actually our regular rent and we have to keep paying it over the summer.

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“She didn’t tell us that at the beginning of the year or give us any formal rent increase, it's gone from £12k a year to £16k a year.

“You have to let your tenants know, and you’re not allowed to do it during the rent freeze.

“The landlord, at the beginning of the tenancy, explicitly said that she wanted this type of contract with the pre-payment because she didn’t want us moving out over the summer.

“She wanted a kind of de facto fixed-term 12 month tenancy – which is illegal – but we needed a flat so we said, ‘alright, whatever’.”

Other tenants shared similar stories, but asked for their names to be changed for fear of reprisals.

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Francis, in Aberdeen said: “Owning a home is out of reach, so I am stuck renting.

 “During the cost of living crisis and the rent freeze my landlord wanted to have a meeting with us. In the meeting he informed us that he would have to evict us and sell, as the buy-to-let mortgage doubled and our rent only covers about half of it.

“That is, unless we find a solution together - a solution he already had prepared.

 “If we, as tenants, offered to pay a higher rent then we’d buy ourselves time - quite literally.

“He’s not legally allowed to demand a higher rent, but tenants are legally allowed to beg to pay more to avoid eviction. That's the loophole.

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 “We are currently negotiating with him to agree on a rent increase that's higher than the rent cap, but that we can still 'afford.'

“We are literally accepting an undermining of the very legislation protecting us in order to not be evicted.

“It has affected my mental health, but there is nowhere else to go. Council housing takes years and every housing association has about 100 applicants per property. Market rents are far from affordable right now so our options are limited. We are a mother and daughter, living together because we can’t afford to live separately.”

Carol and Jamie, Edinburgh, whose names have been changed for this story, say their landlord told them if they didn’t accept a rent increase from £1,200 to £1,600 he would sell the property and they’d be forced to leave.

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Members of the organisation Living Rent came to the property after the locks had been changed in case the landlord attempted to get in.

Carol said: “At that point we wrote to him setting out our rights which scared him off for a bit but then he tried to hike up our rent, completely ignoring the rent cap currently in place as well as the three month notice period needed.

 “By trying to increase our rents and evict us he has made living here massively stressful and anxiety inducing. He knows that my mental health is not great and by pushing for an illegal eviction or a rent hike he has made it worse. My anxiety has increased and I have been having increased migraine attacks.”

Rent in Scotland has increased an average of 11.9% over the last year, leading to the average two bed home costing £924 per month. Those figures are even higher in the cities.

Rents have increased an average of 14.9% in Edinburgh and 13.9% in Glasgow, with a two bedroom home costing £1,279 and £1,154 per month respectively.

Those increases come amid a cost of living crisis which has seen the price of food rise by 18%.

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Aditi Jehangir, secretary for Living Rent says: “Tenants are being bullied into accepting rent hikes right under the government’s nose. As landlords complain about the rent cap supporting tenants too much, these examples of landlords blackmailing tenants with threats of increased rents or homelessness show who really has the power.

 “Landlords have been complaining that they need to raise rents or sell but these examples show who is actually impacted by the housing crisis.

 “We need rent controls to make homes affordable, to ensure tenants are not living in fear of rent increases or eviction. We need rent controls to give tenants more power over their homes. And we need rent controls to penalise landlords who break the law.”

For Jude and Lawrence, the fact they’ve paid 12 months worth of rent means they will not be vacating their Edinburgh home before the end of June.

Jude says: “She’d like to come and chase us out in two weeks, but we’ll not be leaving.

“We’ve had to strip the flat down and move out all our valuables in case she comes and crowbars the door and changes the locks while one of us is at the shops.

“We figure it’s probably going to get more and more strained as we stay on past her eviction.

“She’s threatened to take us to court, but she’s threatened to take us to the wrong court! Which is one of 100 things I could name that suggest she just doesn’t know what she’s doing.

“We weren’t given a whole load of the mandatory forms at the beginning, we only found out about the energy ratings and stuff this week. The flat’s not had appliance checks in years, it’s never had a legionella check.

“Every time we check something it’s like, ‘oh s*** she’s not registered, she’s not done this, she’s not done that’.

“It’s basically someone who is getting away with the fact there are almost no limits to how s*** a landlord you can be.”

Living Rent is Scotland's tenants union which fights for safe, secure and affordable housing for everyone. You can find out more about them here