Other than the election result, there are two things keeping me awake at night. One, my horse’s saddle doesn’t fit and two, I’ve been given notice to leave the home that I rent. The saddle very much comes under first world problems. It bothers me because I’m responsible for my horse’s welfare and have been working him in a saddle that is restrictive, although his previous owner spent a lot of money on it and had it professionally fitted. Despite my concerns, I can see that in the grand scheme of things it’s not a bad problem to have. The problem with my home is much more serious and something you might hope would be encountered only in the developing world not the first world. Sadly this is not the case. Even in supposedly developed countries those who rent are second-class citizens and security of tenure is a distant dream.
Trying to find out my rights as a tenant, I came across this little gem. In case the page gets edited, here’s a screen shot of the text I find particularly worrying:
So according to this advice “renting is always temporary anyways” , I should feel sorry for my landlady/ landlord, and knowing that at any time you might be given two months notice to get out is not a huge problem because “I guarantee the stress of having to sell to kill debt is a lot greater than having to find a new place to rent”. It’s difficult to know where to start with this, but I’ll go through point by point.
I relocated for my job. I have a two-year contract. I had hoped that I would be able to live in one place for those two years. It doesn’t on the face of it seem like a big thing to ask. Instead, one year into the contract I find I have to move. This means paying another agency fee; paying removal expenses; using up annual leave to pack and move; going through that awkward time between one deposit going out and another coming back and all in the knowledge that wherever I move, I will have at most 12 months security.
As someone who rents, I find myself on the hunt for cardboard boxes. Not just now. I mean every time I think there’s an opportunity to get hold of a strong, fairly large cardboard box I take it, both the opportunity and the box. I stash cardboard. I am particularly fond of boxes just the right size to be crammed full of books but still lift-able. I thought this weird but other people I know who rent also live in a perpetual cardboard box hunt. This should not be a normal way to live your life, but it is. Insecurity does this to you, you are always thinking that at some point, another move is on its way and not necessarily at your instigation.
As to me feeling sorry for my landlady, well to a degree I do. I don’t want to go into her circumstances here as they are just that, hers. I have some idea of why she’s selling and I know she doesn’t want to. To that extent I feel sorry for her. Where I have a problem however is that the sale was actually quite predictable. House owners get to check out tenants but the reverse is not true. Had I been able to check out my landlady, and charge her for the pleasure, I would have decided she was not financially secure enough for me to want to rent from her.
Regarding the stress of finding somewhere to rent, well perhaps if you’re always assuming that renting is a quick fix, or something you do until such time as you can buy a place, maybe. However, I’m not alone in knowing I’ll never have the cash to buy. Even if I saved every penny and sold the horse, the sums don’t add up. The house I currently rent is for sale at more than 8x my salary meaning I would not be able to get a mortgage on it. Within a 5-mile radius of where I live the only property for sale within my price range is land with no housing on it. Average property price in my county is around 13x the average salary. On an average salary for this county, if you shopped around in the poorer areas you could get something for around 6x your salary. These figures mean that for many people, renting is something they will need to do in the long term, not something they do in the interim until they have the wherewithal to buy. And it’s not just the stress of finding a new home, it’s the stress of knowing you can get booted out because someone else has a problem that really isn’t of your making.
Over the last couple of months, I’ve lived with people being shown around my home. Initially I was not given notice to move, as the landlady didn’t know how long the sale would take and she depends on my rent, meaning she hedged her bets. This meant that legally I didn’t have to let any prospective buyers around but I did, although I insisted on 24 hours’ notice. On one occasion I flat out refused access because the estate agents attempted to give me two hours’ warning before showing someone around. Within 3 days I received a phonecall from my landlady saying she would have to give me my official notice to end the tenancy. Strange timing, that, and according to her, the estate agents had told her to give me notice, it was not her decision. If you think it isn’t stressful having strangers tramp around your home loudly discussing how many bedrooms it has and how quickly they can get you out, try it for yourself.
I’ve heard the argument that landlords would not want to rent if they had to offer more security to which I say Good. Perhaps if fewer people wanted to get rich quick on BTL, house prices wouldn’t be so ridiculously out of line with wages. And if they’re worried their houses will be trashed by bad tenants again fine, don’t do it. We now have a situation in which the new Housing Minister is a landlord thus it seems unlikely that tenants’ rights will be increased. The Tories, having sold off council housing in the 1980s are busy planning the sell-off of housing association stock. And yet it seems to me that a good way to avoid risks for both tenants and landlords is to have common ownership. If houses for rent were owned by councils or housing associations we wouldn’t be in a situation in which landlords suddenly have to sell up, leaving stressed tenants in fear of being homeless. The current situation doesn’t work and yet this government is bent on pushing us further into it. Unsurprising really, as it helps those who have gain more, whilst those who have not lose out to an ever greater extent.