In lots of countries, there exist laws to limit how much landlords can charge in rent or how much they can increase it by year-on-year. Germany and the Netherlands are probably the best examples, but even the UK used to have them for decades. These countries have recognised that, in order for the private rented housing sector to function in anything resembling a fair or sustainable way, it has to be regulated. They understand that housing isn’t a luxury or an optional extra, that people need somewhere to live, and that the market simply isn’t going to do that on its own.
In Scotland, as in the rest of the UK, it’s a free-for-all; average rent in Aberdeen has increased, in just three years, by 28%, and by 11% in Edinburgh. The market has failed, abysmally and with catastrophic effect, and it’s time to sort it out.
The Scottish Government is currently consulting on a new tenancy for the private rented sector to reform the way renting is done, and hidden away in there is a question about tackling high rent. We think this is our chance; to make housing more affordable, more flexible, and more secure, but we know we’ve got a fight on our hands.
If we’re going to win, we need to be just as organised as the landlords who are fighting back. That’s why tenants and activists from across Scotland have founded the Living Rent Campaign, to leave the Government no choice but to take action. We want 10,000 responses from tenants to the consultation, but the response we’ve already had has been enormous and moving.
We’ve spoken to hundreds of people on the doorsteps and the streets of Scotland who’ve told us their stories; parents who are struggling to support their children, apprentices who are desperate to move out of their parents’ but know they can’t afford it, students whose loan doesn’t even nearly cover the rent, workers who’re forced to choose between paying rent and buying food. One tenant waved their food vouchers, furious: “we pay their bloody mortgages for them as it is, and they still want more!”
I spoke to one person who’d been homeless and sleeping rough for seven years but had finally got his own place. He told me how his life was in the best state it had ever been, but that his landlord had just hiked up his rent. He told me, almost in tears, about how terrified he was of ending up back on the streets. This is the reality of the market in housing; poverty and devastation, and it has to end.
So let’s make it happen, once and for all. You can join the campaign and sign the petition here, but there’s so much more to do: organise a stall in your community, recruit your colleagues and flatmates, get your trade union or students’ association to formally affiliate. This has to be massive.
Landlords are going to throw everything at stopping us, and we need to build a movement to beat them.