London's renting nightmare: what's the solution?

You can't afford to buy, so you rent - only to be kicked out each time a tenancy ends. And it all costs a fortune. So what is being done to reduce the pressure on London’s growing private sector?

We have been called  Generation Rent, but we are also Generation Transient, moving from home to home more often than many people go to the dentist.

In seven years of renting in the capital, I have lived in nine homes with about 15 different housemates. I was on an average of about one home per year, but due to a series of misfortunes (landlord selling followed by a damp problem that made it uninhabitable) I have held three different addresses in the last six months alone.

If you plot my rental journey around London it forms a kind of squiggly figure-of-eight, taking in Clapham Common, Brockley, over the river to Chelsea (if this looks out of place, that’s because it is — I was kindly put up by relatives for a few months after finishing studying) and Dollis Hill, then back south to Brixton and on to Streatham Hill, Tulse Hill and finally to Herne Hill. 

I’ve lived in student halls of residence, party houses, period houses, flats of various shapes and styles and a damp-infested basement flat (never again). 

Contrary to appearances, I am not addicted to moving. Aside from the expense, it’s tedious, exhausting and fundamentally unsettling. But for me, like many of London’s 2.2 million private sector tenants, it has become an all too frequent event.

Desperate measures
When I moved out of a shared house to live with my boyfriend a couple of years ago I thought it would get easier. But the shortage of one-bedroom flats means finding somewhere nice and affordable and staying there is surprisingly hard to do. 

Such is the rarity of finding a good rental home in a convenient location, once people are in, they become desperate to stay, forfeiting their rights. One of my friends moved in to a house only to find that they could not complain about anything because the existing flatmates had done a deal with the letting agent — let us stay and we’ll be no bother. 

In a micro survey of friends on Facebook, the majority who are renting have moved roughly once a year — some even more. The worst case was that of a former housemate, who answered: “10 properties, over seven years, and too many horror stories”. 

One friend said she had lived in six places over eight years. Another said she managed to get a “long let” (two years) but it came at a cost: ridiculously, the landlord, who lives in Spain, doesn’t want to get involved so he won’t fix the holes in the roof. Great!

Normally, leases are only a year long — sometimes with a six-month break-clause — which means you’re less likely to have a chance to get to know your neighbours and there’s insufficient time to make it truly feel like home, so it’s bad for communities, as well as tenants. But a churning cycle of tenants seems to be preferable to many landlords — probably because it means they don’t have to deal with problems and they can put the rent up without complaints. 

The average cost of renting in every London borough

What’s the solution?
Deputy Mayor for housing, land and property, Richard Blakeway, says the Mayor is “working hard with the industry to improve the offer and reduce the pressure on London’s growing private sector”, with schemes such as Get Living London at East Village, the former athletes’ village in Stratford, and “thousands” of homes being built at Pontoon Dock overlooking Thames Barrier Park and Silvertown Way in Canning Town.

Having recently visited East Village, the flats and the three-year leases are attractive, but with prices starting at £395 a week for a one-bed flat, stability comes with a hefty price tag.

Fizzy Living also offers leases of more than a year, but the ones in good locations are not cheap. More of these schemes at a more affordable price and in more locations are needed.

But private landlords also need to step up by offering tenants longer tenancies. Renting doesn’t have to be a byword for unstable. It’s like that because landlords, property management agencies and letting agents choose to make it like that and authorities don’t force them to behave.

With property ownership slipping further and further from the reach of many Londoners in their twenties, renting is here to stay, so let’s make it a sustainable way to live.

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