Many associate renting with sheer doom and gloom: you have to pay an eye-watering amount of cash each month, you often can’t have pets and, to top that off, financial and contractual security hang in the balance.
It seems we need to have a conversation about renting - and it needs to happen soon. The number of private renters aged 35-44 has doubled in the last 10 years, a Family Resource Survey revealed, and at this rate it’s estimated that the number of private renters could overtake mortgaged home owners by 2022.
With younger generations facing stagnant wages, rising rent prices and limited opportunities for home ownership, what’s the solution for making renting less awful? Here are some suggestions about how landlords, letting agents and the government can help renters finally find joy in their living situations.
1. Make renting more affordable.
Renting is often stressful enough without hearing that your monthly or weekly rent rates are due to increase by hundreds of pounds. And unfortunately these costs are open to abuse, which can leave some people on the breadline. According to charity Shelter, private renters often have to pay more than homeowners do on their mortgages. “The massive costs they face make it hard for some renters to get by day-to-day, and for those really struggling it can even push them into homelessness,” the charity’s spokesperson told HuffPost UK.
To tackle the problem, thousands more genuinely affordable homes need to be built across the UK for people to rent, the charity said. “We haven’t built nearly enough genuinely affordable homes for decades, this needs to change if renting is going to become more affordable. It’s also really important we make sure that housing benefit reflects the real cost of renting.”
2. Ditch letting agent fees.
Renters often need a substantial amount of cash in the bank (or a handout from family) to allow for letting agent fees, deposits and the first month’s worth of rent upfront. The government has recently pledged to ban ludicrous letting agent fees, however there are concerns that letting agents might still find loopholes and charge tenants in other ways. “We need this government to continue standing up for renters by following through on its pledge to fully ban letting fees once and for all,” Shelter’s spokesperson said.
3. Offer longer contracts.
If a landlord has tenants who cause no trouble, what’s the harm in offering them longer-term contracts for five years - or even longer? These can help individuals and families feel more settled, allowing them to actually build a home. Plus, for landlords, it takes the pressure off as they know a tenant is interested in renting for the foreseeable future. It’s a win, win.
4. Provide greater stability.
Increasing notice periods requiring tenant(s) to move out of a property would also help them feel more stable at home, which can only have positive repercussions on the rest of their lives. Tenants do have certain legal rights, including the right to keep their home (also known as ‘security of tenure’). This theoretically means a landlord can’t evict you without obtaining a court order, however different tenancies offer different levels of security, meaning some tenants can be evicted more easily than others. (More on that here.)
The number one cause of homelessness is the loss of a private rented tenancy and being unable to find somewhere else to live, according to Shelter. “We need to give tenants much more stability and security so they can live in their rented home for as long as they like without fear of eviction for no reason,” the charity’s spokesperson said. “This is particularly important with more and more people renting today, including families with children for whom eviction can be extremely traumatic.”
5. Improve communication.
If a tenant’s toilet has stopped working, the last thing they want is to wait a few days for basic maintenance. Depending on the urgency it’s not unreasonable to require a response and some form of proposed action within 24 hours. It’s also useful for tenants to have a secondary contact - for a landlord’s friend or family member - in case they go on holiday or are out of town.
Communication isn’t just important when emergencies arise, it’s also useful for landlords or letting agents to notify tenants of issues such as inspections with plenty of notice. Although legally you only need to give 24 hours notice, it would be nice for people to have more of a heads up so they can make arrangements.
6. Better negotiation.
Greater understanding and flexibility around issues like general wear and tear, pets, decorating, rent costs or the deposit would make life a lot easier for many renters. If a landlord is open to negotiation, like in any other business, it could really make a difference.