The move comes just two months after SNP and Scottish Green ministers rejected a rent freeze following campaigning by Scottish Labour’s Mercedes Villalba.
The North East Scotland MSP welcomed Sturgeon’s U-turn while also criticising ministers for not acting sooner as rents have soared alongside the cost of living and energy bills.
“It’s welcome that the first minister appears to be planning to introduce a rent freeze,” said Villalba.
“If the Scottish government had not used its overall majority to block my proposal for a rent freeze earlier this year, the most hard pressed in our communities could already have had a month of relief from increases imposed by landlords.
“However, with the cost of living and energy bills crisis skyrocketing, there is now a chance for SNP and Green MSPs to unite with Labour against the Tories by introducing a rent freeze to support struggling tenants.”
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Villalba proposed that rents should be frozen for two years as part of an amendment to the Coronavirus Recovery Bill in June. The plan, which was set to be in place for two years until rent controls are introduced in 2024 failed to attract support.
In the meantime renters have been open to rent rises as landlords pass on rising mortgage pay due to increasing interest rates.
Last month the Big Issue highlighted the case of Glasgow renter Jemma Maclaren who protested against her £200-a-month rent rise. Maclaren, who was also facing an eviction, said she was “terrified” about the increase. Her landlord Kelvin Properties said they were putting up the rent to “bring the property in line with open market rents”.
Tenants union Living Rent protested against Maclaren’s rise and called for a rent freeze.
“A rent freeze and an eviction moratorium is a huge step in the right direction by the Scottish government and will go a long way in supporting tenants,” said Living Rent secretary Meg Bishop.
“The devil will be in the detail and it is important that this rent freeze applies across the board, from purpose-built student accommodation to social housing, from rent increases starting today to rent notifications issued two months ago.
“While we are hugely relieved by this, we also know that rents are already too high and have increased by over 60 percent in Scottish cities in the last ten years. This rent freeze is a great emergency response, and will need to stay in place until the Scottish government brings in proper rent controls that push rents down.”
The rent freeze and eviction moratorium were part of a raft of cost of living measures Sturgeon introduced in her Holyrood statement. The first minister announced the Scottish child payment would increase to £25 a week per eligible child from November 14 and the fuel insecurity fund would be increased to £20m.
Ministers have also given councils the power to use discretionary housing payments for energy bills with the backing of £5m and eligibility for the tenant grant fund will be widened. Scotrail fares will also be frozen until next March to help commuters.
New prime minister Liz Truss will now face pressure from campaigners to follow Scotland’s lead in freezing rents. Generation Rent has been calling for similar action to be taken in England.
Alicia Kennedy, director of Generation Rent, said: “Renters are terrified, knowing they face a winter of destitution. Ultimately that will lead to a further rise in evictions and homelessness. The government must intervene and temporarily stop landlords from raising the rent, as well as pausing evictions to keep renters in their homes.”