[In which I offer a more detailed and more considered response to some questions put to me in my capacity as a private renter who has ‘given up hope’ of ever buying a property during a BBC 5 Live discussion on home ownership and private renting. This was hosted by Chris Warburton and featured Alex Hilton, Director of Generation Rent http://www.generationrent.org/about and Henry Pryor, Independent Housing Expert. (19 April 2014).]
Interviewer: ‘The beauty of renting though is that you’re entirely flexible…moving costs are low, all that kind of thing..’
In some cases it’s true that privately renting property does allow more flexibility than having a mortgage. I have listened to many a homeowner relating how difficult it can be to sell a house once you’ve decided to move on. An actual move can come a long time after someone has decided they want to sell. Sometimes you may be absolutely stuck and unable to move without making a huge loss. In contrast, if you have all the right credentials and the required income, as a renter the world can be your oyster. It is possible to give notice and one month later (or less) be living in a completely different place.
However, few actually have the absolutely right credentials and income to live wherever they choose. In reality most of us have limitations to contend with such as: how much rent we can afford; the size of accommodation we need; the location based on work or schools; whether the landlord accepts children or pets or housing benefit; the length of the tenancy; credit history; references; employment status; contract type; availability of cash for the deposit and agents fees; and a whole host of other factors.
Added to this is the fact that a renter is many times more likely to be in a position where they have to make these moves than a homeowner. Recent statistics suggest that renters with families are 10 times as likely as homeowners to move in a given year.http://england.shelter.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/587178/A_better_deal_report.pdf
That’s ten times more stress for a family than the average homeowner. The effects of repeated moves on children and their emotional and educational development could form a topic for a whole separate post but suffice it to say, they are many and well-documented.http://www.thersa.org/about-us/media/press-releases/devastating-impact-of-moving-school-revealed
In short, there is a difference between the positive spin of it being easier to move and the rather negative but more realistic picture of more moves being necessary for a host of reasons which make private renting a less desirable option than home ownership for many.
Interviewer: ‘The other thing is, if something goes wrong, you know, if your boiler breaks you don’t suddenly have to fork out a couple of grand for a new one..’
Things do go wrong in rented accommodation which are not always fixed or replaced. Some landlords respond to such issues immediately but some do not. Some landlords choose to serve an eviction notice on those tenants who request essential repairs-213,000 private tenants have reported this experience to the charity Shelter in the last year. Added to this are the 1 in 12 private renters who live in accommodation requiring repairs but who do not challenge the landlord due to fear of retaliatory evictions http://blog.shelter.org.uk/2014/03/cant-complain/
It can be an enormous frustration for tenants to be living in a property which has at times dangerous faults but not be able to get them fixed. We can’t make repairs ourselves; we can‘t make improvements ourselves. Waiting for someone else to raise the money, summon the inclination or find the time to make essential repairs is not healthy psychologically. Homeowners may struggle to carry out essential repairs but at the end of the day they have something we private tenants do not: a greater sense of power and control of their own destiny. Given the choice between having to repair things in my home and being reliant on another to do it for me, I will choose the comparative luxury of the former. Having a home to make repairs to means you also have a home to call your own. I could live with that.
Interviewer: ‘…there is something in that though isn’t there- the flexibility of being able to move where you like and, you know, do what you want?’
And finally it is not true that as a private renter you can ‘do what you want’? Within the limited perimeters described earlier, it is kind of true but in the vast majority of cases not. As a private renter I have wanted to have a safe and reasonably comfortable home but I haven’t always had that. I have wanted to put down roots for myself and my family but I haven’t felt able to due to the lack of security of tenure. I have wanted to have a relationship with landlords where I felt treated with respect but I haven’t had that. As a private renter you find yourself living to someone else’s agenda in someone else’s house and all too often seeing no way out of that situation.
Interviewer: ‘I mentioned Spain is a completely different culture… renting…there’s no stigma attached to it. It’s pretty much accepted that that’s going to be the course for a lot of people.’
…will form the content of my next post.