‘Money is draining through my fingers’: UK tenants on soaring rents

Elle Young*, 29, who works in arts funding, lives in an illegal sublet in London to make her rent more affordable. She is one of five people living in a three-bedroom property. There is mould and damp in all of the rooms and the window panes are rotting. In the kitchen, the rot has caused the glass pane to fall out, meaning the cold air seeps in.

Young is not named on the contract, so she is powerless to get in touch with the landlord. When her housemate on the tenancy agreement contacted the landlord, they were told he had “no funds available to make any repairs this year”. Young is terrified that if they keep requesting repairs, they will be issued with a section 21 notice, which allows private landlords to evict tenants in England and Wales without having to establish they are at fault. She fears that if she is forced to move out she would have nowhere to live due to soaring rental costs.

“I’ve seen rooms in house shares being priced between £850 and £1,200 where I live. I can’t afford that,” she says. “We’re not allowed to be here and I’ve also got no protection but I have no choice.”

In 2018, she was made homeless after consistently asking her landlord in a previous rental to fix a broken window. “It doesn’t really matter whether you are in a contract or not because of the section 21, your landlord can just kick you out.”

If she loses her home, she will be up against rising rental demand and will probably have no choice but to live in another insecure property unless she can come up with another £400 a month. Against the backdrop of a cost of living crisis, with rising food prices and energy bills, this seems impossible, she says.

Like Young, thousands of renters live in a climate of uncertainty, finding themselves in precarious housing situations because they have no alternative. Private renters spend more than 30% of their income on rent. And more than 1.6 million people are living in dangerously low-quality homes, plagued with cold, damp and mould – and without functioning bathrooms or kitchens, according to analysis by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. In an overheated market, renters have little choice but to take what they can get.

Anny Cullum, the policy officer at the community union Acorn, which deals with housing, says private renters are forced into unsafe housing owing to a lack of regulations to protect tenants’ rights while prices rise “way out of reach”. “Landlords and letting agents are putting prices up because they know people are running out of options. Housing is such a fundamental need that people will pay out for, even if it means detriment in other areas of their life,” she says.

Private rental prices in the UK rose by 3.6% in the 12 months to September 2022, the most prices have risen since they were first recorded in 2016, according to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

In 2019, the Conservative party committed to a renters’ reform bill that would scrap evictions under section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, which meant landlords only needed to give tenants two months’ notice to leave their home. Being denied the right to habitable and secure housing takes a toll and many tenants say they are struggling to cope because they fear losing their home amid rising living costs.

Last month, the Scottish government announced a rent freeze and an eviction ban until April 2023 to help people through the crisis. Cullum called on the Westminster government to take similar action in the rest of the UK: “The government has shown that they can take emergency measures during the pandemic. The cost of living crisis is also a massive threat to people’s wellbeing, so therefore they should take emergency measures now to freeze people’s rent.”

Georgina Clemens, 48, was served a section 21 and given two months to move out of the London flat where she had lived with her daughter for five years because the landlord was selling the property. She searched for a new flat for months, and because rental prices have shot up she now pays £250 more a month – two-thirds of her take-home pay.

“The increase in the cost of food combined with the increase in my rent is really putting a strain on me. It feels like money is just draining through my fingers,” she says. “I’m struggling at work. I struggle to concentrate in conversations with people because it’s there, humming in the back of my mind constantly. I just don’t know how I can carry on. It’s like every single minute of the day, I am thinking about money. It’s relentless.”

Felicia Odamtten, of the Resolution Foundation thinktank, who was a co-author of the Housing Outlook Q3 2022 report, says the renters’ reform bill will help address a lot of the insecure tenancies that people are having to agree to. “If section 21 does get repealed, it will help give people a sense of stability because there are families living in the private rented sector and it’s just really difficult if you’re trying to move with your family at two to three months’ notice if your tenancy is ending.”

But for Young, unless there are rent controls to assist with the cost, she will continue to be forced into insecure rentals. “I never thought I’d be pushing 30 and still be in a house share … I don’t see how I possibly could ever own a house because of the way that mortgages are set up now,” she says.

“When I was homeless I was having to sleep in not great situations, like on people’s floors. I live in fear I would go through that again. I’m not in contact with my family so I couldn’t move home. This is my home.”

About the author

Marta Lopez

I am a content writer and I write articles on sports, news, business etc.

By Marta Lopez


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