I’ve written before about different trends in the shadow private rented sector, whether they be the rise in rent to rent scamming, meter tampering or photoshopped fake bailiff’s warrants but now we are seeing a more widespread problem that underpins most of the other trends and our daily work, the affordability of private rents and the problems they create in the round.
The London Rents map for April 2021 to March 2022 published in June 2022 reveals that if you want to rent 1 bed flat for under £1,000 per month in London you have to be living in a thin rim on the edge of outer London and into the home counties. The bulk of London rents are spread between £1,000 and £1,300 upwards for the smallest of properties. If your household size requires a 3 bed property then, as the map also reveals, you are largely looking at rents from £1,500 in the outer rim to £2,150+ in most other areas.
Once stolid, even previously run down areas like Hackney, Battersea, Peckham are in the red zone and largely closed doors to people on low wages, or benefits.
Difficult enough for any single people merely looking to rent but an absolute disaster for many Safer Renting clients in a different way.
In case you didn’t know, Safer Renting works in partnership with a number of local authorities in London. Tenants experiencing harassment, illegal eviction or complex situations with landlords and agents approach the council who then refer the case to our team of 7, soon to be 10 TRO/caseworkers.
Many people we work with just want to get out of their accommodation. They are often sick of the poor conditions and have no confidence in their landlord or agent.
A large majority are living in HMOs, often large, overcrowded and unlicensed HMOs. Discovery of the unlawful properties by licensing and enforcement teams is precisely what prompts the harassment and illegal evictions in the first place.
Often these properties are occupied by people working in poorly paid or zero hours, gig economy jobs and some are single people on benefits who are under 35, so cannot get enough benefit to cover even the smallest studio flat and are forced to share with strangers in cramped, often illegally converted rooms.
Investigating allegations can be a long job involving hours of negotiations and threats of action against landlord or agent, often with the aim of keeping them at bay, buying time for the hapless renter to relocate, an option that is increasingly unavailable as rents continue to rise.
People get trapped in the accommodation in a way that we didn’t see so much of until this year.
At the start of the 2022 we were charged by one of our local authority partners to roll out a short project with time limited government money to clear people’s rent arrears and avert homelessness. Many of the people in arrears had got into this situation because of job loss, as a result of the way the pandemic affected jobs, particularly hospitality.
This wasn’t a loan scheme, we were giving money away, often in excess of £10,000. It seemed reasonable to expect the landlord and agents to issue new contracts for the coming 12 months and many were more than willing to do so but the real problem was that even if we cleared the arrears, the property was still unaffordable for the tenants. They didnt want to and in some cases simply couldn’t stay on, even if we cleared the debt and this is the kicker……they couldn’t find anywhere else either.
Their only option would be to relocate and as the GLA map indicates, probably to the very edges of London, where if they were still in employment, the lower rent would be eaten up straight away by travel costs, unless they changed jobs as well.
Renters find themselves trapped in poor accommodation, desperate to move but unable to because rents are beyond their means. Even the working poor. Wages have stagnated but prices and rents continue to rise.
The current round of prime ministerial wannabees, if they talk about housing at all, cite the shortage of property and the need to build more. None of them has addressed the affordability of rental accommodation.
Yes building more accommodation will ultimately, in theory, drive down rents by simple supply and demand principles but we are years away from that position, even if government threw open the doors to social house building, which they wont but the affordability problem is with us right here, right now.
On Safer Renting’s daily team meetings everyone discusses cases that are problematical and the rest of the team chip in with ideas and suggestions but increasingly the main issue is that they simply cant move, even if given a relocation package by the local authority, something becoming increasingly common as a homelessness prevention tool.
In addressing the reasons for why they might want/need to move, they might not be eligible for legal aid to get a solicitor to help with conditions or harassment. Although most are eligible they cant often cant find a solicitor among the dwindling pool of legal aid lawyers, trying to manage an overwhelming caseload.
The councils can serve a variety of notices on a landlord in respect of improving conditions but most have a prescribed timeframe which includes time for the landlord to appeal and even if the landlord simply refuses to comply, taking further action is also limited by prescribed times and while all this is going on, several months, the tenants is still living with the same problem, driven to despair and ill health.
Surprisingly most tenants of even the worst landlords, don’t want to take their landlord to court. Like the rest of us they just want somewhere safe and decent and to be left alone to live their lives
As I mentioned above, Safer Renting will often keep landlords at bay whilst the tenant sources alternative accommodation but increasingly that is becoming harder to do in a way we didn’t see until comparatively recently.
By Ben Reeve Lewis