Home ownership is at its lowest since 1986, and if you’re one of the lucky ones who has managed to secure a mortgage in these extremely tough times then good for you. This luck may inadvertently lead to a lack of knowledge and understanding of the dire situation that many private renters are being forced to suffer through, due to today’s housing crisis. Things have got shockingly bad and are only getting worse, and it is time for everybody to pull their heads out of the sand and take a look at the misery and fear that hundreds of thousands of people are living in.

Another broken system

Those who are unable to obtain a mortgage have to enter the private renting sector where they will find themselves paying rent that usually amounts to the cost of the landlord’s mortgage on the home, and this usually leaves the tenant unable to save for their own mortgage. But even before the injustice of private renting begins, a potential tenant needs to secure rented accommodation. In order to do this, the first port of call is usually an estate agent. Once upon a time, this was a relatively simple step into private renting, however nowadays potential tenants can be expelled from the chance of a home if they don’t meet increasingly harsh standard expectations. In order to even be considered for a tenancy you’ll need a decent credit rating, often as well as a guarantor, and then a reference from a previous landlord. You’ll pay admin charges in order to prompt them to decide if you’re good enough to be accepted or not. If you are accepted, then you’ll need to pay a deposit (usually the same amount as as a month’s rent), the first month’s rent up front, and your moving costs.

It should come as no surprise that many cannot afford the above. People are sinking further into debt, and living pay check to pay check is fast becoming normality. Saving is impossible for many and a good credit rating is a rarity. Occasionally, an agent will advise you that a potential landlord may be flexible despite your background check – for example, perhaps if you offer six months rent up front. But with the UK’s average rent costing an extortionate £921pm it’s extremely unlikely that people will be able to do this.

“I started renting when I was 17 and I had to move house at 19. My new landlord required a months rent as a deposit. I was a single mother to a young baby and I didn’t have a job, no family and of course I had no savings – the benefits I claimed were only enough to allow me to afford food, rent and bills. With an already maxed out overdraft, I had to get a credit card in order to pay the deposit. Once I moved, I was in the red every month. I couldn’t afford the repayments of my overdraft and credit card and the charges mounted up. I was scared and didn’t know what to do so I ended up just ignoring all the letters. It spiralled out of control and that was the beginning of a life of debt. I still have a terrible credit rating 10 years on and the only way I’ve been able to rent is by going through dodgy landlords.”

So, if a tenant can’t go through an agent then what can they do? Well, sites like Gumtree and OpenRent sometimes have private landlords, who don’t use agents, advertising their properties but these often come with a list of expectations – with one of the main ones being refusal of tenants in receipt of housing benefit.

“I was evicted from my home and I lived in a city with quite high rent. I was claiming housing benefit so I struggled to find somewhere that I could afford or that would let me rent from them. I happened to walk past a house being decorated that had a board over the window saying it was to let. I met with the landlord and discussed my circumstances and he agreed to rent to me. He was untrustworthy from the get go, saying I could pay any deposit I wanted as long as he didn’t have to put it in a secure deposit scheme and he even used a different name on my housing benefit application than what he had given me. I was desperate, though, so I had to go ahead with it. The house was a state – he had used the cheapest of every material and there was a half built extension in the back garden with breeze blocks falling down. I have a young child and it was very unsafe for her. I kept getting small electric shocks whenever I touched anything in the kitchen, and when he eventually came out to get it fixed he told me that the earth wire hadn’t been connected. He blamed the sky man who had installed the sky box in a different area of the house. I had to stay there with my child for two years before I managed to get away. I felt like I failed her, but there was nothing I could do.”

People who do manage to secure a tenancy are finding themselves living in fear of being evicted. Usually, tenancies span over 6-months and at that point, if a new contract isn’t signed, the landlord or tenant can give a months notice. It’s not unusual for tenants to enter a rolling contract and then be at risk of being evicted on short notice. Common advice for those experiencing a shock eviction is simply ‘don’t leave’ – because if a tenant leaves then they have made themselves ‘intentionally homeless’ and, in that case, aren’t entitled to any help. So they are told you must stay there until they are placed in social housing or have found a new private property. Yet, when things go sour with a landlord it is extremely unlikely a tenant will get a reference in the future, leaving them in a vicious cycle.

“I had been renting from my landlord for 4 years. I had always paid rent on time and never had any serious problems, but he was a relation and I was claiming housing benefit in order to pay the full rent. I couldn’t tell housing benefit he was a relation else they would say I wasn’t entitled to it even though I was paying everything I was given by them to my landlord, and I didn’t get it any cheaper than it would be for anyone else – I wasn’t doing anything wrong.

Then I met my partner who lived in another part of the country and we eventually decided to move together up North. We found a nice place to rent and had viewed and paid the deposit, which we had just about been able to afford. All that was left to do was send my new landlord my reference details. I told my current landlord and he told me that he wanted the next months rent immediately – three weeks early – else he would refuse to give me a reference. He said he was worried I would leave without paying the last month’s rent, but I think he was just trying to stop me moving. The deposit and first months rent for our new place, as well as my months rent in my current place, was all we could afford from that month’s pay and he knew this. I couldn’t contest what he was doing anywhere because I knew he would blackmail me with the fact I had been claiming housing benefit while renting from a relation, and I was scared. I couldn’t afford to pay him the next lot of rent that early and so he didn’t give me a reference, and so I couldn’t move. I feel very trapped here and angry. It shouldn’t be like this.”

The negative effects this has on mental health is huge. People are living in constant fear that they will become homeless and won’t get any help. They are told they have to refuse eviction – to act in a way considered antisocial and immoral – in order to secure the chance of getting onto an failing social housing system. Can a rented accommodation even feel like a home for most tenants nowadays? Or are tenants just living in a constant limbo, never knowing what is around the corner or being held hostage in homes they don’t want to be in? The effects of living like this are severe and with women being hit the hardest by austerity it’s no wonder that female suicide rates are at an all time high.

“We were so happy in our new home – it was beautiful, a decent price and next to a fantastic school. When we rented it the landlord had assured us we would be able to rent long term, even though to begin with it would be a 6-month-contract. That’s the norm so we didn’t question it. We settled in but after 6 months we were evicted.  We were heart broken. There were no properties available in that area, either, so we had to move away to another area and we are now stuck in a place that we do not want to raise our children in. We are too scared to even try to move again because at least we know this landlord won’t evict us. I can’t see us ever getting away.”

If someone is unable to private rent then they can apply for social housing, but the waiting lists are long and there are extremely strict rules to follow. One system punishes refusal of properties – for example, if a potential social tenant believes that the property offered is unsuitable (be it for the space, the condition or the area) and they decide to refuse the property, then they are punished by being placed at the bottom of the waiting list again. Another system leaves potential social tenants ‘bidding’ for properties which results in them living in a constant state of hope – when a suitable property comes up -and disappointment – when the hundreds of applications shows that they never stood a chance, and they have to start all over again.

“My family are living a few doors down from a prostitute and opposite a suspected drug dealer. We are too scared to walk down the street. The only school my child can be accepted into was once one of the worst in the country, and it isn’t any better now – they’ve just lied their way through the inspections. But we are living here and we know the truth. My child is miserable.”

The effects of the housing crisis are all around us and with a damning report due for release by Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity, it seems clear that things are only getting worse. The Guardian have reported that “more than a million households living in private rented accommodation are at risk of becoming homeless by 2020 because of rising rents, benefit freezes and a lack of social housing, according to a devastating new report into the UK’s escalating housing crisis.” Will anybody listen to it?

As the cost of everything rises but wages stay the same, we have to accept that the housing crisis is real – it isn’t going anywhere, it is getting worse and not enough people care. There isn’t room for the idea that people who work hard are the ones who get and deserve mortgages, because people work hard and cover other people’s mortgages via rent. The illusion that people choose social housing for an easy life needs to be cast out – it isn’t easy and it certainly isn’t a happy life. People do not deserve to be living as though they are less than humans, and something needs to be done.

 

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