A charming overseas student comes to look at a vacant room in the flat I let. We agree on the rent and the move-in date, but when I say I need to see proof that she has the right to reside in the UK, she seems uncomfortable.
“I’m from Latvia,” she says. “I have a European passport, but I’m not sure if I can live here now Britain’s not in the EU.”
I reassure her that Britain is still in the EU, for now, and until anyone tells me differently, I can continue to let to anyone from any country with an EU passport, Latvian students included.
“Nothing will change for at least a couple of years,” I tell her. “You’ll probably have finished university by the time we actually leave.”
“Yeah, but I don’t feel welcome here any more, I don’t know if British people want us here,” she says. I tell her that as long as she pays her rent on time and behaves herself, I will like her a lot.
She asks if the locals are friendly and I say they’re as friendly as anywhere else in London: you and I know that’s code for “don’t expect the neighbours to lend you a cup of sugar” but I thought I would let her work that out for herself.
I also reassure her that the flat is in an area where more than 70 per cent voted to remain in the EU, but this statistic doesn’t seem to give her confidence that she won’t be spat at in the street and told to “go home”.
Suddenly, her eyes lock on to mine and she asks: “Which way did you vote in the referendum, In or Out?”
I’m taken aback. Even my closest friends wouldn’t ask how I voted and I wouldn’t normally tell a complete stranger, but right now, it feels important to come clean.
“I voted to remain,” I tell her. And why wouldn’t I? A good percentage of my tenants have come from other European countries and, until 6am on June 24, I thought they always would.
I’m pretty confident EU citizens will still be allowed to come to live here, in smaller numbers, once Britain has actually left the EU, but whether they will still want to remains to be seen.
London might be a lot less appealing to many if the UK economy tanks. I’m expecting to see a drop in the number of young foreigners looking to rent rooms in the next few years, but my flat is in an area of high demand for well-priced accommodation, especially among students and young professionals.
My biggest concern following the vote to leave is that sudden turmoil will lead to an interest rate rise. Those of us with buy-to-let mortgages will find it hard to afford significantly higher interest payments from next April, when we will no longer be able to offset them from our rental income for tax purposes.
On the other hand, if the economy takes a battering, it seems more likely that interest rates will be cut, which might mean cheaper loans for landlords.
I guess it’s all a game of wait and see, and telling hundreds of thousands of tenants from Europe that, for now, nothing has changed.
- Victoria Whitlock lets four properties in south London. To contact Victoria with your ideas and views, tweet @vicwhitlock