THE BLOG

Rip Off Rents and Unscrupulous Landlords: Welcome to Renting in Britain

09/03/2015 17:27 GMT | Updated 09/05/2015 10:59 BST

We face a housing crisis. While politicians muster up promises of ownership, millions of us rely on a private rented sector that remains poorly regulated and expensive. We don't need reform, we need a housing revolution.

This week David Cameron told us that a Tory government would give young people a help up onto the housing ladder. However as Sky News Political Editor, Faisal Islam, pointed out, this parliament will have one of the worst home building records in recent times, so people may get a helping hand to buy, but with a limited housing stock, this policy will be no silver bullet.

These pledges would allow for developers to bypass previous regulations of building a percentage of social housing, and continue to erode any sense of cohesion within our communities. Recent reports from Brixton saw families become squatters in their own homes because a private developer had been granted building permission, this shows the desperate attempts people are having to undertake to stay in their communities.

What many politicians fail to grasp is that the Thatcherite dream of a nation of homeowners is nowhere near becoming a reality. Generation rent is increasing every year and currently stands at 3.9 million of us who rely upon the rented sector to keep us safe, warm and provide us with a good standard of living; yet for many the reality of renting falls way short of these ideals.

For millions of tenants, squeezed wages and rising living costs have resulted in people making drastic choices in their housing options. With the birth of websites such as Spareroom.com, we now see a frenzy for people to secure nothing more than a bedroom. The site produced research that showed there has been a 71% increase in the number of people in London searching for rooms to share with a stranger. Of course the situation in our capital has traditionally seen the biggest squeeze in housing availability, but even in Edinburgh with less than a 10th of the population of London, students are reportedly ordering taxis to sprint round flat viewings and get to the estate agents to sign the lease.

Even if you do manage to a humble abode, of sorts, you are automatically at the behest of a landlord who is subject to little regulation over their practices, yet collectively receive £26.7 billion in tax payer funded housing welfare subsides.

It's worth applauding the many landlords who are fair to their tenants, but for those who are not, they can make the lives of people utter hell. Threats of eviction, no running water, lack of heating and no return of deposits. These are battles many in the sector have to deal with every day. I too was subject to such an ordeal when a rogue letting agency in London failed to return my £550 deposit after being evicted one Saturday morning due to my room being illegally sublet to me.

An NUS report on the state of private rental sector cast light on the practices being used by some landlords. The student body found that nearly 50% of students stated they struggled to get their deposit back in full.

Figures from Shelter revealed that this cocktail of scrambling, rip-off rents and poor regulation that has resulted in almost two million young people of working age having to extend their stay at the hotel of mum and dad.

There has been progress made on highlighting the need for an overhaul. London Mayoral candidate Diane Abbott, has promised tougher regulations and a potentially taxing landlords who charge rents over an agreed London living rent. These are radical ideas, but they need greater momentum to be championed nationally. In Scotland the government outlawed administration fees that agents could charge tenants, however no law exists in England.

In the run up to May's election every campaigning organisation across the country will be out to draw attention to their raison d'etre in an attempt to woo politicians. With only 14% of the public placing affordable housing as their top priority, the millions of us in private renting need to shout louder and draw attention to the scandal in housing.

Failure to get a grip of the rent sector won't just result effect the 3.9 million of us, it will leave our towns and cities at the behest of unscrupulous landlords and rip-off rents.