Tenant campaigners at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday. Image: Ric Lander

The fourth Scottish Parliament gave its final seal of approval to a new land reform bill and legislation to enable controls on private housing rents this week.

The Private Housing (Tenancies) Bill improves security of tenure and enables rent controls by allowing for the creation of “rent pressure zones”.

The Land Reform Bill removes the expemption from business tax for shooting and deer estates (created by the Major Government) and will create a new land ownership register.

Both pieces of legislation take aim at the power of Scottish property owners and respond to well-organised campaigns created in the throws of the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence. These are hearty victories for the Scottish left.

Liz Ely from the Living Rent campaign said:

“Since Living Rent first started campaigning, we’ve managed to increase security of tenure significantly, make tenancies more flexible and put rent firmly on the agenda with the SNP voting to support national rent controls just last week.

“This new bill will mean that tenants can no longer be kicked out of their homes for no reason, and will introduce some restraint to rent hikes.”

According to the Living Rent Campaign the bill will improve the deal for private rented sector tenants by:

  1. Ensuring tenants cannot be evicted from the properties they rent at will
  2. Making tenancies roll on automatically, meaning there is no pre-set minimum or maximum period that a tenant has to stay in a property for
  3. Enable the creation of ‘rent pressure zones’ in areas where rents are rising particularly rapidly

Although this progress is hugely welcome, Scotland is still far from having the secure and professional rental markets many other European countries have and campaigners have vowed to continue to push for the rights of private sector tenants.

The land reform bill is a significant first step to challenging the power of Scotland’s estates, but the level of ambition from the SNP falls well short of that demanded by campaigners.

Scottish Greens gave the land reform bill mixed reviews.

MSP Alison Johnstone unanimously secured an amendment to insist that ministers report by 2017 on a review of rights for tenant farmers, whilst Patrick Harvie MSP’s amendment to give local authorities the ability to tax vacant or derelict land failed to pass.

Andy Wightman, Co-founder of Our Land and Green MSP candidate for Lothian said:

“The limited nature of this legislation demonstrates that we need a bolder Holyrood with more Green voices. With a government majority it’s simply baffling that the SNP – whose own membership has been agitating for radical measures – have passed up the opportunity to deliver real reforms.

With the SNP accused of softening its policy stances on a number of issues, the broad left in Scotland is working hard to ensure the fifth Scottish Parliament can go much further in tackling private capital, austerity, and protecting the environment.

This week’s victories offer a great example of what can be achieved in Scotland with vision, organisation, and hard work.

Liz Ely, Living Rent Campaign noted: “It shows that when people come together and get organised, we can change things for the better.”