Steve Burgess: Tenants need a ‘living rent’

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It will be no surprise to private tenants in Edinburgh that rents in the Capital are the least affordable in Scotland and second only to London (News, November 24).

Last week, at full council, I drew to the council leader’s attention the fact that private rents have risen by 17 per cent in the last four years. I see that Councillor Andrew Burns has since been on Facebook arguing for action on fair rents.

That is why I hope that the city can get behind the case for a “living rent”. As a council, we have shown a lead by ensuring that all employees get a living wage. There is work still to do to extend that to suppliers, contractors and, indeed, all Edinburgh employers. But it is a really important signal of the importance of decent pay.

But there are two sides to the equation. The benefits of decent pay will soon be dissipated if necessary costs, like housing, are sky-high.

One in five residents in Edinburgh rents from a private landlord, more than from councils and housing associations put together. Compared with Scotland as a whole, there is far less social housing to choose from, giving private landlords in the city a position of market dominance.

And then one has to add into the mix Edinburgh’s history of absurdly high property prices which, of course, feeds through to high rents.

That is why I believe we now need a “living rent” commitment to match the living rent momentum.

In the long run, the Green policy of land value taxation would help curb house price inflation better than the inefficient council tax. But we need to do something to ensure landlords can only charge a rent which reflects the service they provide.

That means ensuring that, while a tenancy is running, rents can rise by no more than the rate of inflation. That is the case in Germany, which has a more mature and stable market than in Scotland, showing that regulation of rents and healthy markets can work together. That would benefit tenants and the local economy, with money unlocked from unproductive bricks and mortar.

Of course, curbing hyper-inflation in rents also means taking action on tenancy security. A continuation of the standard six-month tenancy regime is not consistent with keeping rents affordable, as landlords would choose to turf tenants out in order to start tenancies with new rent levels.

That is why a living rent means predictable rents and greater security for the 50,000 tenants who rent privately. Its time has come.

Councillor Steve Burgess is housing spokesman for the Greens