Homes for People, Not for Profit: The crisis of rising rents and the rent control Scotland needs | Meg Bishop, National Secretary of Living Rent

Shelter, a warm place to rest, is one of our most basic needs and fundamental human rights.

Nonetheless, our homes have become speculative tools to be bought, sold, or preferably rented for profit. The dreams of private property, alongside the prevalence of inherited wealth, have made the implications of this in Scotland particularly acute.

A house is also access to other human rights, education; a suitable environment; healthcare. It connects you to your community, your block, your street. Homeownership is seen to be a condition for social status and even successful citizenship, whereas renters are often represented as unambitious or simply awaiting the transition to ownership. These transformations have primarily been attributed to the Right-to-Buy and the stock transfer or demolition of council housing. We’re encouraged to buy a place of our own, but keeping a rented roof over our head is challenging enough.  

Far from resulting in the ‘ownership society’ first heralded by the Conservatives, homeownership rates have fallen while the number of people renting privately has continued to rise. Indeed, house prices have risen far beyond the average wage, which has declined in real terms in Scotland. Independent income, or inherited wealth, is now necessary to purchase a home or accumulate a deposit. This, in turn, has an inflationary impact on rents as landlords take advantage of the increasing number of tenants unable to save for a mortgage.

The latest Private Sector Rent statistics published by the government presented a damning report. Rents have been entirely divorced from our ability to afford them, rising by as much as 45.9% since 2010. There is not one council region in Scotland where rents have not increased in this period.

In addition, the number of people experiencing homelessness has risen alongside the contradiction of vacant or under-occupied housing that is used as holiday lets or sits to accrue in value.

We have failed to see just how deeply implicated housing is in the creation of poverty. Instead, the myth persists that hard work from tenants and building more homes are the only solutions to the housing crisis.

HeraldScotland: Figure 1 – Percentage change in average (mean) rents for 2 bedroom properties between 2010 and 2020 (Source: Scottish Government Private Sector Rent Statistics, 2021).Figure 1 – Percentage change in average (mean) rents for 2 bedroom properties between 2010 and 2020 (Source: Scottish Government Private Sector Rent Statistics, 2021).

We’re told that if the conditions of the working classes deteriorate, it is because of personal or cultural reasons. Proposed solutions that challenge the housing system or threaten the pockets of private landlords are frequently met with vitriol. In particular, debates regarding rent control can hardly begin before they are violently opposed.

Typically, this solution is dismissed because of claims that rent controls would impact the quality of rented housing, harm the efficiency of the housing market, and that instead, we should focus on ‘improving supply’. However, activists and researchers are working to unpick these myths and put forward a case for the rent controls Scotland needs.

Whilst building more housing, particularly social housing, is welcome. The fact of the matter is that rents must come down. By campaigning for rent controls that would use a points-based system to incentive repairs, Living Rent are demonstrating that more recent models of rent control can in fact be beneficial to quality, especially when the quality of private rented housing in Scotland is already abysmal.

The union campaigns for rent controls tied to the property, rather than the tenancy agreement, prevent tenants from feeling stuck in a tenancy at the risk of inflated prices between leases. A serious conversation about rent controls is a necessity for the welfare of tenants. The solution is there; it just needs to be adopted.