“No matter how long you live in a rented place it is never truly yours,” single mum Hannah-Marie Fox, 35, who lives in rented accommodation in Worthing with her four children, tells HuffPost UK. “It can be taken away from you at any time. It will never be a true family home because you’re always on edge that it’s not permanent.”
In the UK, 1.8 million families with children now rent privately, up from 600,000 in 2003. The Resolution Foundation think-tank announced today [17 April] that up to half of the millennial generation could still be renting in their 40s and if home ownership growth in Britain follows the “weak pattern” of the 2000s, a third of millennials could still be renting by the time they claim their pensions.
Families who rent have said they feel as though they are living in a world of uncertainty, not knowing when they might be told they need to leave. This makes it difficult for parents to plan for the future - such as making decisions about where their kids will go to school.
“It’s stressful renting with kids,” says Fox, who has been renting different properties since 1998 and has been in her current four-bed house for five years. Despite being close to buying a home in her 20s, she was unable to get a mortgage and had to pull out. “You’re always worried about the children causing damage to the property, worried about being given notice to quit, having the rent put up so it’s out of reach and knowing there is no way you can continue to pay or save for a deposit for another place.”
“There are also always worries that we’ll have to move out of area and move the children away from school and their friends,” adds Fox who feels that at any time, her landlord could serve notice and she will have two months to find somewhere else for her family to live.
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The Resolution Foundation said a “radical reform” is needed to make the private rental sector fit for raising children and retirement. The report said policy has failed to catch up with the fact that bringing up children in the private rental sector has become mainstream. “While insecurity in the private rented sector is often seen as an acceptable risk when childless, the disruption it can cause to schooling, friendship groups and support networks once young people have a family is clearly less than ideal,” the think-tank said.
Fox isn’t shocked by the Foundation’s findings. “It honestly doesn’t surprise me,” she says. “Property prices are astronomical, both to buy and to rent. Wages haven’t risen anywhere near as fast as house prices, and so people can’t get a mortgage big enough to enable them to buy somewhere.”
Michelle Shulman, 40, from Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, also knows the struggle of renting as a family. She doesn’t fit into the “millennial” bracket but still faces renting into retirement as she and her partner Daniel, 43, have been renting for 19 years. They currently live in a two-bedroom house with their children, Fiona, 17, and Kelsie, 14. “I think the news [of how common it is for families to be renting] is tragically sad,” she says. “Getting on the housing ladder should be something that is accessible to everybody.”
“Renting with kids is hard,” says Shulman. “What is really frustrating is that we could ideally do with moving to a three-bedroom house so the children each have their own rooms while staying in a nice area, but to do that I would need to pay at least an extra £300 a month minimum. You don’t have security - at any point the landlord could decide to sell the house from under you.”
Last year, a Citizen’s Advice survey of more than 2,000 adults renting found two in five (39%) people living with their children in privately rented homes had a tenancy of six months or less. And more than a third of parents thought that if they were asked to leave their property their current notice period would not give them enough time to find somewhere else to live. Almost half (46%) said they would prefer not to move between properties as often as they do.
Shulman says it’s her goal to buy her own house in the next five years, but her husband isn’t on the same page. Despite the frustrations, the mum-of-two says there can sometimes be a silver living: “The one bonus of renting: at least if the boiler breaks on Christmas Eve the landlord has to pay to fix it.”
The unreliable nature of renting is something that Mary Immanuel knows only too well. The 41-year-old mum from London has been privately renting since 2011. Six weeks after moving into her first privately-rented house with her six children (ages 10-23), the landlord told her he was selling the property. The sale did not go through as he expected and she eventually lived there for five years, in uncertainty. “Eventually I was evicted in September 2016 and I did not know where we were going to live,” she says. Immanuel now lives in a small, four-bed house in Warlingham, Surrey. She says renting with kids is “scary”, adding: “I just don’t feel like I can ever truly feel at home as in the back of my mind it is not permanent.”
Isla Macneil, 32, from York lives in a three-bed rented house with her husband Tom and their three kids Lola, 10, Xander, 10, and Isaac, 16. She wants to buy a home, but says purchasing a house large enough for all five of them is not financially feasible. “Renting with children can be stressful,” she says. “We have moved three times in the past five years and we have started dreading the call that the landlord wants to have the property valued as this often means that they are looking to sell.”
But what Macneil has found most difficult is not knowing which area she will be living in for the future, as in the past she has had to move with little notice. This has meant she has moved out of catchment areas and currently has three children in three different schools.
She also says it’s the seemingly minor things that can be hard, too. “The kids would love to decorate their rooms, or in some houses even be able to put a poster up, but cannot,” she adds. “I would love to live in a house where we don’t need to have a house inspection every three to six months dependant on the agents and where we are able to fix problems as they come up rather than having to rely on what the agent or landlord sees as a fit solution.”
Macneil does add that in a way, renting enables her to be more flexible, if she wants to move with little warning, she is able to.
In response to their research findings, the Foundation has called for “indeterminate” tenancies as the sole form of contract in England and Wales, replacing the standard six-month or 12-month contracts offered by most landlords. It also proposed a three-year cap on rent increases, which would not be allowed to rise by more than the consumer price index.
“I completely agree this [overhaul] is needed,” says Shulman. “Once you start to rent you end up in a trap. Rent is more than he average mortgage of a house the same size, which makes it more difficult to save. I think they need to cap the percentage landlords can charge over and above the mortgage they are paying.”
But Fox doesn’t feel as if an overhaul as suggested by the Foundation will change anything for the better. “If rent control is introduced, private landlords will either sell everything or price low income families out of the market completely,” she says. “Either way, families stand to lose out.”
Fox suggests there should be a landlord register, to ensure that landlords comply with basic legal requirements to make their property safe and fit for habitation. She says housing benefit should be paid direct to the landlord in all cases so they are not put off renting to low income families and councils should re-introduce the deposit guarantee scheme.
A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokeswoman said: “Our Help to Buy scheme and the recent cut in stamp duty are helping more young first-time buyers get on the property ladder.
“Figures show that we are seeing the highest number of first-time buyers for more than a decade.
“But we’re also helping to ensure that everyone has a safe and decent home by giving councils stronger powers to crack down on bad landlords and consulting on stronger protections for tenants themselves.”
For advice on renting, visit Citizen’s Advice information resource online.