Tenants – Where’s the respect?

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The percentage of people moving into rental properties is increasing. These include people making a lifestyle choice for flexibility, those forced into it through inability to get a mortgage, those having to sell their homes through economic difficulties. And me.
It seems like a simple choice. Pick a home, put down a deposit and move on when you feel like it. What’s not to like?

The problem is that flexibility has two sides, the other side being insecurity. The private rental sector (PRS) is by design a temporary system. The massive majority of tenancies are for 12 months at most, so whilst the tenant has the flexibility to move on as they wish, their master the Landlord has precisely the same powers. This is all very well for young singles about town but not quite so good for families with schooling who are trying to build a life in a community.

From my day job I know that the supply of decent affordable rental property is dire and that there is huge demand for every decent property. It doesn’t take much to extrapolate that when demand outstrips supply Landlords do not need to rent their properties cheaply, (why would/should they?) they do not need to fix the damp and maintain their properties or frankly give a damn about their tenants well being. Many do but an increasing number (the sheds in Slough being an extreme but increasing example) do not. When there are five people after your rental property it is easy to regard tenants as the most disposable part of the equation. This will only get worse.

I am in the property industry and I have recently decided to rent. Knowing what I do, I did it with a heavy heart but it was a practical solution. My heart was right. Yesterday I had a call from my daughter who was ill in bed and in the house alone. ‘Mum, someone has been trying to get into the house. The chain is on but they have been back three times’. She was scared. Suffice to say, I am furious.

I am assuming it was the Letting Agents. There was no notification of a visit, nothing. I have emailed asking them to explain themselves, and if indeed it was them trying to get in or someone else. Not a minor question but as yet unanswered. However, this highlights for me what is wrong with the current system of renting. As a tenant, rather than a homeowner your home is never your castle. It should be. Technically you are purchasing a rental property under a lease and should enjoy the same level of comfort and security to bring up your family. But you don’t.

What you get is three or six monthly inspections where some oik from the Agency pokes their nose around your house, letting themselves in, even if you are not there. Rubbing your nose in the fact that it is not your home.
With the emergence of buy to let over the past decade tenants are now also increasingly at the mercy of amateur and reluctant Landlords struggling to pay the increasing mortgage with no pennies left to mend the boiler or maintain the property properly. With mortgage rates only rising, repossessions will increase. I remember Lucy Morton from ARLA telling me that tenants should reference their Landlords, good advice but in reality…?

It is time to stop treating tenants like second class citizens. Homeownership is going to fall even more in the future, more people will need to bring up their families, try to put down roots and live their whole lives in rented accommodation.

For the homeowners reading, how would you feel if your mortgage company insisted on inspecting your cleanliness every three months? Having them tell you that you can’t paint your new babies bedroom pink. That you can’t hang pictures and need to live in a magnolia womb for the duration. You may not have a cat without paying £1500 extra and that you are on permanent one months notice to quit. Horrid thought, isn’t it? With so many low income AND so called middle class families having to rent for the long term, why should the massive rents tenants pay be so completely different to a mortgage?

We need to stop regarding renting as stop gap accommodation. We need to be looking at making renting a decent long term option by encouraging long term investors, not fly by night amateurs at the mercy of interest rates and repossession. The Government should be coming up with ways of encouraging institutional investors to provide long term rentals, where people can build lives and the investors get a secure long term return and tenants who will treat their property like their own home. We should be pushing for five year plus tenancies to become mainstream. In fact something rather like ‘council houses’. Remember them?

We also need to frown upon the inherent attitude of many in the Estate Agency industry – that tenants are a magic porridge pot of money but deserve no respect because the Landlord is their king.

As for my letting agent, I am awaiting a response. It will be either an apology or they’ll decide to do battle but what I can guarantee is that they’ll not understand why I am furious. They will not understand why someone walking into my home would make me feel violated, after all they do it with ‘their properties’ all the time.  And there’s the rub, I call it my home, they don’t.  The property is the commodity that earns them money, the Landlord their Master and the tenant within is easily replaced, in fact fees make it lucrative for them to do just that.
I am fortunate in that I have access to the cream of experts advising me on my rights as a tenant. I am primed with ‘section this and section that’ slipping off a sharpened tongue. The majority of people and the most vulnerable are not in my position and are at the mercy of an unregulated, insecure and often cruel system.

Is it any wonder us Brits are desperate to be homeowners?

An Englishmans rented home should also be his castle but let’s start with some respect.

I’ll keep you posted.

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