Labour has announced plans to institute policies to support those of us who rent privately. These relate to three year tenancy agreements; an annual rent-increase cap; and a ban on letting agents charging excessive fees. As a private renter with a family, it’s the 3-year tenancies which in particular strike me as being a step in the right direction. Here’s why.
These longer tenancies would undoubtedly lend a little more security to a tremendously insecure living situation. My renting life has involved 6-month initial tenancies which have then, more often than not, rolled on up until the point when I have wanted or needed to move on. When I say ‘rolled on’ I mean, we have remained in those properties but with a tenancy that could be ended with 2 months’ notice pretty much at the whim of our landlords. We knew that the landlord could decide he wanted his property back for any number of reasons, most of which would be entirely beyond our control and we would have no choice but to move. So a 3-year tenancy would provide a greater sense of security simply because it covers a longer period than most tenancy agreements currently do.
That the question of continued tenancy comes up so regularly is very unsettling as a renter. Psychologically, if I am honest, this insecurity has made me much less inclined to make an effort in the communities in which I have lived. This hasn’t been good for me and certainly hasn’t been good for the children. I have existed on the periphery, not feeling able to fully commit. It hasn’t been a conscious choice but still I know it to be a truth. If you have too many people like this, ever-poised to move on and reluctant to settle for fear of being uprooted then we are at risk of fracturing neighbourhood links. A 3-year tenancy agreement would go some way towards making a renting situation feel more predictable which in turn could encourage more connection with the community.
When things have gone wrong and we have had to move because of a landlord’s decision, it has been very distressing for our children. Thankfully, having no sense of our private renting status being as precarious as it was, our children did forge close links with their community and invested fully in the place they called home. However, when that was wrenched away, they felt its loss keenly. My children have endured this just once. If it had to happen again my heart would break but I know something much more profound would be at danger of breaking in my children. I would do whatever I could to avoid going through it again. Yet I know of many private renters with families who face 6-monthly moves on a regular basis and I know the profound effects it has had on their children. For these people, 3-year tenancies could represent a significant improvement to their lives.
A policy resulting in people not having to move so often sounds suspiciously like one which is placing the individual, their security and their needs squarely at its centre. This apparent change in ethos is significant and heartening. It appears to signify a move away from an it’s-all-about-putting-a-roof-over-heads attitude and towards one which says we want more than that because people need more than that. I hope this is an acknowledgement that moving too often, especially with children is destructive. The mere fact that a party has stood up for more permanency and security for those who have less, is very encouraging.
This 3-year tenancy could affect the relationship between tenant and landlord. A power imbalance exists in many cases in the relationship between tenant and landlord in private renting by which I mean, the landlord has significantly more. As a tenant, I’m respectful and undemanding. I appreciate the fact that I live in a house which belongs to someone else. These can be good things. On the negative side, I am fearful that if I put a foot wrong I may be asked to leave because I am deemed too difficult. Private renters in theory have rights but in practice with retaliatory evictions being on the rise, many will put up with poor conditions rather than risk losing their tenancy by annoying their landlord. As a private renter, the option of staying in a property for 3 years with restricted conditions under which that period of tenancy can be altered by the landlord could result in the balance being redressed slightly. Again this seems to suggest a policy designed by a party with an interest in fairness.
Finally, I want to say that the adoption of this policy seems to be a somewhat overdue but nevertheless welcome acknowledgement of the changing demographic living in private rented accommodation. Existing policies seem firmly and rather anachronistically built around the idea that private renting is for those who need this as a temporary housing solution. However, there are many families and individuals who right now, for whatever reason, do not envisage ever leaving the private rented sector. As such, we need assurances that we can make our, maybe not ‘forever’, but certainly, ‘reasonable-amount-of-time’ home in one place. The 3-year tenancy proposal, seems to move some way towards allowing for this and for that I applaud it.
So in short, as a private renter with a family there are lots of positives to take away. However, I look forward to more to come because there is so much more to do if we really want to fix private renting here in the UK.