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Emergency rent freeze blocked despite cost-of-living fears

North East MSP Mercedes Villalba.
MSPs blocked rent freeze calls.

Struggling renters have been “badly let down” by SNP and Green politicians who rejected an emergency rent freeze, according to the North East MSP behind the plan.

Campaigners want the Scottish Government to address soaring costs for tenants, which they say are “pouring petrol on the cost of living crisis”.

But MSPs voted down attempts to write-in a rent freeze as part of the government’s  Coronavirus Recovery Bill, which would have kicked in before longer-term controls are introduced in 2024.

Labour MSP Mercedes Villalba, who was behind the attempt at Holyrood, argued tenants cannot afford to wait years for action.

She was opposed by the SNP, Greens, Lib Dems and Conservatives in a 94- 21 defeat late on Tuesday night.

There are currently 23 MSPs – nearly a fifth of the total in parliament – who are landlords or own shares in letting companies.

Tenants ‘at the mercy of landlords’

Ms Villalba said: “The SNP-Green government has badly let down Scotland’s renters by using its majority at Holyrood to block a rent freeze.

“Tenants will now be at the mercy of landlords, who will be free to hike up rents during an ever worsening cost of living crisis.”

We reported previously that Ms Villalba’s first attempt was withdrawn after it was shown to be unworkable.

Ms Villalba agreed to drop it on the “understanding” the government will work with her.

But she said Covid Recovery Secretary John Swinney declined her invitation to meet.

The fact that landlords have quite so much sway in politics is a very big issue that we need to talk about.

– MSP Emma Roddick

She said Tenant’s Rights Minister Patrick Harvie “offered no constructive proposals to cap or limit rent increases” in the legislation.

Mr Harvie argued the “near-blanket approach” of Ms Villalba’s amendment, “coupled with the lack of opportunity for engagement”, means it is at high risk of a successful legal challenge by landlords.

He warned such a legal challenge could hold up the other government measures.

Mr Harvie said the plan “significantly increases” incentives for landlords to bring tenancies to an end early and reset rents.

That would lead to a “dramatic rise in evictions”, he warned.

SNP MSP ‘agonised’ over vote

Following the debate, Highlands SNP MSP Emma Roddick said it is a “difficult thing to agonise over whether you agree with your party”.

On social media, she wrote: “If I thought there was a chance that my voting for these amendments today would equal rent being frozen, I would have voted with her.

“I’ve been given lots of reasons that this won’t happen, but the main sticking point seems to be that resulting legislation would not be strong enough to stand up to the inevitable legal challenge by landlords.

“If that’s the reason, then the fact that landlords have quite so much sway in politics is a very big issue that we need to talk about.”

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