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The people's rent freeze: campaigning for a local rent cap

The rent cap and eviction ban ended on 1 April. The Newington and Meadows Branch are campaigning against the coming wave of unfair rent hikes and evictions.

The rent cap

Since October 2022, Scottish tenants in Private Residential Tenancies (and certain types of assured tenancies and short assured tenancies) have been protected by a 3% limit on rent increases, as well as limits on grounds for eviction. The legislation underpinning these protections ends on 31 March 2024. This means that from 1 April, there is no legal limit to how much a landlord can increase their tenant’s rent.

Rent adjudication

Tenants who feel their landlord’s proposed rent is unreasonable can apply for rent adjudication through Rent Service Scotland. Rent adjudication has existed for years, but is not known or used widely. 

We at Living Rent do not believe this process due to the onus being on the individual tenants to contest. We instead are asking for a system of rent controls. 

The rent decision is based on the “market rent” of the property, as determined by the rent officer. Historically, tenants who applied for rent adjudication risked having their rent raised above their landlord’s proposed increase if the market rent was determined to be even higher. Understandably, this potential outcome has put people off using this process and Living Rent could not in good conscience encourage people to do so.

The Scottish Parliament will be introducing new rules to this process, in which the worst-case scenario will be a 12% increase in the rent. In addition to that effective cap, the new rules make it impossible for the rent to be increased over what is proposed by the landlord. Details about the rent adjudication process and the new regulations are available at [URL to Living Rent's page on rent adjudication].

Despite these improvements, we still do not believe that the rent adjudication process is fit for purpose, nor do we believe it provides adequate protection to tenants from unreasonable rent increases. However, now that tenants no longer have to fear that applying for rent adjudication will result in a higher rent than their landlord wanted anyway, Living Rent can now suggest that members and tenants engage with this process.

The Campaign Goals

The abolition of the 3% rent cap means that from 1 April tenants are able to receive notices for effectively unlimited rent increases, which will take effect from July. Though the new rent adjudication rules effectively cap rents at 12%, this limit will apply only to tenants who go through this process. Those who do not know they can challenge their rent increases or who do not feel confident in navigating the process will be stuck paying outrageous rents or moving.

The members of the Newington and Meadows group have been preparing to provide such advice and support. With the new rules in place, we want to encourage as many people to use the rent adjudication process as possible in service of the following goals:

  1. Fighting unreasonable rent increases, which will help slow the rate at which rents rise more generally.
  2. To challenge a large number of rents in our area, building a case against using the so-called market rate as a factor in determining fair rents in our locale and others.
  3. To demonstrate the inadequacies of the rent adjudication process, building a case for more rent controls.

Campaign Tactic

The Charter

To draw attention to the coming wave of rent hikes, the Newington and Meadows Branch have sent a letter via e-mail to the following three letting agencies operating in their area: At Home in Edinburgh, Little Johns, and Southside. The letter requested that they sign a charter agreeing that they would strive to keep rent increases at or below 6%. The text of the charter is below.

We, [letting agent name], recognise that rents have increased dramatically in Edinburgh over the past decade, and that many tenants struggle to pay their rent. As the current temporary cap on rent increases comes to an end, many letting agents will take the opportunity to increase the rent in the properties that they manage.

However, we recognise our responsibility to our tenants, and have always prided ourselves on the positive relationship we have maintained with our tenants over many years, and as such today we commit to striving to keep rents affordable by limiting increases to no more than 6% annually. As part of this:

  • We will not suggest rent increases of more than 6% to the landlords whose properties we manage
  • We will not remind landlords of the opportunity to increase the rent
  • We will discourage landlords from increasing the rent by more than 6%

We take our role as a responsible letting agent seriously, and recognise that high rents remain a key factor in driving and creating poverty. By undertaking this pledge, we hope to make a positive difference to the wellbeing of Edinburgh residents.

It is in the interest of these letting agencies to sign up to this. Any rent increase above 6% is a good candidate for rent adjudication, and landlords cannot collect an increased rent until the adjudication decision is made (though once it is, they may be entitled to a backdated amount; see the details on the rent adjudication page.).

There is a risk for agencies that their landlord clients may be unhappy if they are advised they can raise the rent to whatever they want and then Rent Service Scotland lowers the amount. Additionally, if the process drags on—a likely outcome if many people apply—then landlords may be further angered at having to wait more than the statutory three months to receive the increased income from their property.

If you or someone you know receives a rent increase notice, fight your rent hike by going through the steps on this page and then come along to the next member defence meeting for your local branch and get all the help you need to fight it. Member defence reps are prepped and ready to help members navigate this process.

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  • rufus bouverie
    published this page in Our campaigns 2024-04-19 09:41:08 +0100