There are many stories like this one but they don’t always have such a drastic outcome. The rental market is in dire need of reform as currently it appears to make tenants lives uncertain and difficult.
The interviewee chose to remain anonymous so for the purpose of this interview we have replaced their name. It’s a typical story of what lengths people will goto to escape the insanity of house prices and the largely cruel rental sector in the UK today.
So, Alan, how precisely did you end up in the rental trap?
Personally I feel that my opportunity passed me by during the housing crash in the 1980s. I had the opportunity to buy a flat for £30,000 but I was in my early 20s and my salary was around £9000 a year. I guess its easy with hindsight but I was preoccupied with being young and starting my career, renting just seemed the logical choice at the time. Then as time went on through the ’90s house prices rose so fast I simply had to give up any hope of buying a home at all and it’s pretty much stayed that way ever since.
What has been your experience of renting in the UK?
In some cases it’s been ok, theres always problems when you move out. I have never managed to leave with my full deposit as the landlord or letting agent always find something to charge you for. That is always a source of frustration because in most places I have rented they’ve been slow to fix anything that goes wrong when your in the property. The rules are mostly loaded in favour of the landlord and against the tenant. The contracts are always soul destroying to read as they specify things like no holes in walls, no gatherings of more than 4 people, no pets, etc etc. All the things that make life fun are outlawed, it’s a gross invasion on your life choices in my opinion.
But surely a landlord has the right to protect his property against bad tenants?
Sure, I have no issue with that but because of the minority then the majority must all suffer these draconian contracts. When you rent a place it becomes your home, it’s where you live. To the landlord you are simply a cash cow and the contract just legally supports their position and power over you. I have always been a good tenant and always provided excellent references which I feel should allow them to judge if I am a safe bet and then cut me some slack on the contract.
By the sounds of it you have had some bad experiences?
You have no idea! The worst experiences by far came one after the other. I was renting a small 2 bedroom flat in London for £1000pcm and was perfectly happy there, despite it’s rent being way overpriced. Then one day I met my neighbour on the stairway, he’d only moved in 3 months earlier, and he told me it was a shame we where all being turfed out the next month. I had no idea about it so I contacted the rental agent who told confirmed this to be true and that they had sent a letter telling me my contract wasn’t to be renewed 3 months ago. I never received the letter but apparently “proof of postage” is legally proof of receipt regardless as whether it arrives or not. So there I was with 1 months notice that I had to leave my home where I was very happy. Needless to say it was back on the market for £1200pcm a month later.
I hastily found a new place to rent with a friend of mine and I persuaded them that maybe we should sign a 2 year contract this time round so we can guarantee this experience isn’t repeated. They agreed and the letting agents gave us the contracts along with some astronomical fees in the region of £400 to set it all up. When we moved in the place was filthy, had cobwebs everywhere and a gas leak under the sink. It took us an age to get all that sorted out with them.
Just over a year after we moved in my personal circumstances changed and we enquired about terminating the contract. I had assumed that after a year it would be like the 6 month break clause in a yearly contract, but no. It turns out they wanted 10% of the rent per month left on the contract to buy ourselves out the remaining contract time, a whopping £3640.
But surely that was stated in the contract?
Yes indeed it was and I take the responsibility for that, but the process of moving was so hectic after losing my last place I just needed to find a roof over my head. There was also absolutely no room for manoeuvre on the point, it was pay up or see out the rest of the contract. They wouldn’t even put the property up for let so a new tenant could be found and we could move out. So by trying to protect myself from being turfed out like my previous landlord did I had locked myself into a contract I couldn’t get out of. It was like double jeopardy. Plus, they charged me for the cobwebs when we left, even after I pointed out that I hadn’t cleaned them because they where written on the inventory check in report!
So what happened next?
We stayed for another 4 months and then bought ourselves out the contract using our deposit money. By that point I was thoroughly fed up with the whole system. I had visited Sweden and noticed that house prices there where extremely affordable. Most houses are around the £130,000 mark which was mind-blowing for me! I’m so fed up with the rental sector that I’m leaving the country, I’m planning my move Sweden because it’s my only hope of getting on the housing ladder.
Isn’t that a little drastic?
I guess it might seem that way but honestly, the only way I could afford to buy in the UK would be to move somewhere I don’t want to live simply to get on the ladder. The Swedes don’t seem to have commoditised property in the same way the UK has. If you rent a place out there the tax all but wipes out any profit and therefore the market isn’t riddled or distorted by many rental properties.
But what about the help that the government are offering first time buyers?
Being subsidised by the state to borrow more money than I could normally afford doesn’t strike me as a great idea. If interest rates rose I would have a crippling mortgage repayment I could most likely ill afford. I’d like to live within my means. I had friends in negative equity during the crash in the ’90s and I saw what the worry did to them.
Your advice then is to leave the UK and try somewhere else, why not just try somewhere else in the UK as you said?
It’s not a solution everyone, I am fortunate in that my work situation means I can be anywhere really and I have very good friends in Sweden already so I’m trying something different. It’s a bit of an adventure but it is solely driven by the need to buy a home, I can’t imagine being able rent as a pensioner!
Somewhere else in the UK would mean moving far from anyone I know and starting all over in a new place where house prices are low because nobody wants to live there. I just don’t want to do that so I’m going to try Sweden instead.