Explainer: Scotland's private rental sector

Explainer: Scotland’s private rental sector

Explainer: Scotland's private rental sector 5

The Scottish Government’s regulation of the private rental sector has faced criticism in recent years from both tenants and landlords. 

Emergency efforts to restrict evictions and cap rents during the Covid-19 pandemic and cost of living crisis drew the ire of landlord lobbying groups, with claims that they would cause landlords to leave the sector and reduce the number of available properties. 

What legislation has the Scottish Government put in place?

In recent years a raft of new laws have seen landlords restricted from raising rents on sitting tenants by significant amounts, as well as a temporary eviction ban, and the introduction of a short-term let licensing regime. 

In March 2024, the temporary eviction ban in the private sector came to an end, with tenants instead able to dispute an increase that they feel is unreasonable, through an adjudication process.

A rent officer can decide a proposed rent hike is disproportionate, based on similar market rents in the area, and set a maximum monthly increase.

Landlords and properties increasing

The Ferret put in freedom of information requests to local councils for Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, Stirling, and Perth for historic data on the number of landlords and properties on their landlord registers.

Some local authorities could not provide comparable data, but we were able to get information for four Scottish cities – Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen, and Stirling.

When combined, this showed an increase in the total number of landlords and properties registered between 2019 – before increased legislation came in – and 2024. 

In Edinburgh, Dundee, Aberdeen, and Stirling there were a total of 166,619 properties available for rent in the first quarter of 2019. Figures for 2024 show there were 171,421 private rental properties across the same group of councils, a record high. Meanwhile, there were also a record number of landlords, 120,759, on the register.

Explainer: Scotland's private rental sector

Scotland-wide data released by the Scottish Government covering the period from January 2022 to October 2023 indicates that this trend in Scottish cities may also be happening elsewhere. It shows a steady increase in the number of properties registered across the country over this shorter period. 

The average number of properties rented out by each landlord has also crept up across this same group of cities. 

Most landlords still rent out one single property, but the average number has shifted from 1.3 properties per landlord to 1.4. 

What about other Scottish cities? 

The aggregated data highlights some significant differences between cities. 

Dundee, for example, bucked the wider trend. There are now around 5,000 fewer private properties for rent in the city compared with 2019. There are also more than 1,000 fewer landlords and the number of homes each one rents out has gone down too. 

The majority of this drop all happened between 2019 and 2020.

Meanwhile, Edinburgh has seen a relatively large jump in the number of landlords making properties available to private renters in the last year. Edinburgh was the first city to implement a short-term let control area in September 2021 – and a number of landlords may have switched from the short-term let sector to offering tenants longer leases. 

Explainer: Scotland's private rental sector 6

Glasgow, Highland Council and Perth and Kinross were also asked to provide historical data from their Landlord Registers. However, they were unable to provide figures for the time period requested. 

Glasgow did provide quarterly data from the first quarter of 2023 to the first quarter of 2024, showing that over this timescale it had seen a rise in the number of properties for rent – from 60,370 to 61,149 in this time period. The total number of landlords in Glasgow dropped slightly over the same period, from 39,351 to 39,110. 

Have rents increased? 

While there has been an increase in rental properties in major Scottish cities, rents for people starting new tenancies have also increased rapidly in recent years. 

Between 2010 and 2023, average rents for a two-bedroom property in Scotland increased by 52 per cent, which equates to a £287 hike to monthly rents. There have been numerous reports of tenants facing significant increase at the end of the ‘rent cap’ in March 2024. 

What will happen next? 

New legislation for tenants in Scotland has been proposed by the Scottish Government. 

The housing bill was introduced to parliament in March 2024, and proposals include “long term rent controls for private tenancies, new rights to keep pets, decorate rented homes and stronger protection against eviction”. 

However, campaigners have raised concerns that the new bill may be in danger after the  SNP ended the Bute House agreement with the Scottish Greens, and urged new first minister John Swinney to prioritise housing legislation

Housing in Scotland: By the numbers

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Main image: yvonnestewarthenderson/iStock

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