By Riccardo Giovanacci is Managing Director of Newton Letting
IT is a fundamental principle of a functioning democracy that parties, when in power, should pay at least lip service to the concept of balancing the competing needs and aspirations of all elements of society, not just those they hope will shore up and increase their voter base.
Simple fairness – the cornerstone of democratic philosophy – dictates that consistently favouring one side of any argument to the detriment of the valid case of the other side will lead to imbalances and injustices which can only, ultimately, be injurious to the health of the body politic.
This, I am sad and disappointed to have to say, appears now to be the situation we have arrived at with the latest Scottish Government intrusion into the workings of the residential rental market, which puts a roof over the heads of 38% of the population.
The Cost of Living (Protection of Tenants) (Scotland) Bill, which currently is being bundled unceremoniously through the Holyrood system, will impose a freeze on rent increases and a moratorium on evictions, with the provision to extend for further six-month periods.
Billed as an “emergency response” to increasing energy and other prices, it appears more to be another knee-jerk reaction to the measures the UK Government has been introducing in Westminster.
The political principle governing the present Scottish administration seems to be that if Westminster says it plans to do X, then Nicola Sturgeon’s regime will say it will do Y, with the proviso that Y must always be greater than X.
Its thinking, attitudes and actions would appear to give greater weight to oneupmanship against the Tories than the more onerous task of trying to find solutions to problems that address the issues facing the parties concerned.
I have said before that I am a keen advocate of some regulation in all spheres of professional activity, and that I am a keen advocate of measures to tame the undoubted, and admitted, Wild West elements in the Private Rental Sector.
But what Scottish landlords – across the board, not just private letting – are subject to now is Government decree, biased strongly in the interests of its client base but dressed up in the trappings of democracy, such as the hearing of evidence.
Representatives of the sector could present the most unassailable logic at the hearings that are being held at the moment and it would matter not a whit. The decision has been taken. The landlords’ voice has been pre-emptively dismissed and they will, once again, just have to like it or lump it.
There is only so much of this high-handed – not to say oppressive – political behaviour that the sector can take. The new measures will further disadvantage them while, perversely further incentivising unreasonable tenants not to play ball.
The tragic irony is that most landlords are perfectly capable of self-regulation. Most will willingly forego rent increases if they have a good tenant in place and be satisfied with reasonable increases when a property is re-let.
For me, there was a dispiriting illustration of the dichotomy in landlord/tenant thinking when I sent emails out to both parties at the start of the pandemic, warning of the effects of the draconian measures then being imposed.
Almost without exception, the replies from landlords offered rent reductions and asked what they could do to help. In contrast, tenant replies focused on whether or not they would have to continue to pay rent and whether landlords were getting any preferential treatment.
The scales have been tipped in favour of tenants’ rights for a considerable time, but in Scotland now it is not just a gram or two at a time, but kilos. The inevitable effect will be that landlords will sell up, supply will be reduced, demand will increase and prices will soar – exactly what the administration professes that it wants to avoid.
But there is no dialogue with the deaf. By the time those imposing these latest changes wake up to the reality of what is being done to the sector, it will be far too late.
And the climb back up will be 10 times more difficult.