Guest post: 'I know I'll never own my home - but does renting have to be so tough on families?'
There are currently 9 million people in the UK renting the home they live in and - as house prices continue to rise - more and more of them are families.
In this guest post, MN blogger Fiona Elsted shares her experiences of renting, and the upheaval it has caused her family, and argues that the government must do more to make renting less precarious.
Thoughts about things that matter
Posted on: Tue 08-Apr-14 16:39:47
(118 comments )
Recently I had a go at The Great British Class Calculator. I conscientiously answered questions about salary, accommodation, social relationships and activities, and my responses placed me in the ‘Emergent Service Class’ – the second lowest ranking.
However, the researcher in me decided to try a second time - I repeated all my responses except the one about property. Rather than ticking the ‘rent’ box, I ticked ‘own’. In my mind, I chose a reasonably-sized mortgage – one that I could afford to pay - and was instantly catapulted into the second highest ranking, ‘Established Middle Class’.
It’s not that I'm clamouring to join the ranks of the middle classes, but this illustration of my perceived social ranking is just one striking way in which being a private renter limits, compromises and defines my life. The rest of this post is devoted to a few more of them.
When people learn that I rent privately rather than owning a home, there are a few typical responses. Some make me feel as though I am 'second-class' - transient and probably a bit undesirable. They inexplicably equate renting with a lack of responsibility. Others assume my status is temporary and I just haven’t got around to buying anything yet. Friends and acquaintances remind me that I really must get on the property ladder at some point, assuming buying is something I can even consider and talking to me as though I'm insisting on playing the field like some confirmed bachelorette.
I understand their concerns. They - like me- know that in many ways the life of the mortgage-holder allows for much more independence and security than that of the renter. As long as the home-owner can pay each month, the property is theirs. Not so for the private renter. Obviously I need to pay, but other issues beyond my control can affect my tenure: the landlord’s whim; their finances; their age; what the letting agent thinks, to name a few. Plus, the home-owner has a property which is truly theirs and allows the addition of simple homely touches - things like painting the walls, hanging pictures, letting their children share their lives with a pet or allowing them to record their height and age on the bedroom door frame.
Moving home with children of school age is problematic on a number of levels. For my children it was awful. They were uprooted from the safety and security of the school and friends they had known for 5 years. There were tears and anxieties and a lot of genuine sadness.
And once we hit the subject of children, the limitations and compromises I mentioned earlier become much more challenging. Renting works well for students or those who want a temporary solution to their accommodation needs, but the kind of stability required for a young family is difficult to find. Some tenancies do not allow children; other properties are clearly not suitable for them. Problems with properties tolerable as a single grown-up are unacceptable as a parent.
Issues with my property that depress and embarrass me, I put up with because to move my children based on superficialities or inconvenience would be selfish. However, when things go wrong and a new property is required, the practical and emotional impact can be enormous and repeated. Research suggests that in 2012-13, families who rented privately were 9 times more likely to have moved than home-owners. Whilst moving is stressful for everyone, those in private rented accommodation seem to suffer it rather more frequently.
In addition, families are increasingly being forced into moves with their young children because some landlords and agents are putting up rents to an unmanageable level after an initial 6 month contract or other fixed-term period. As the housing charity Shelter has highlighted, large numbers are being evicted as a result of asking their landlords to make necessary repairs to their properties.
Moving home with children of school age is problematic on a number of levels. For my children it was awful. They were uprooted from the safety and security of the school and friends they had known for 5 years. There were tears and anxieties and a lot of genuine sadness. On a practical level, placing three children at the same primary school was impossible. We are currently managing drop offs and pick ups at two different schools without a car and it's not easy.
Local Education Authority procedures for helping place children in a new area are frustrating. I couldn't have access to a list of schools with available places and I couldn't apply for school places without a firm new address in the area. It was the property finding equivalent of Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Added to this mix was the fact that my eldest is moving on to secondary school in September and places had already been allocated, so we had to leave that decision to fate.
It was a stressful time, but it could have been much worse. I might have had each child in a different school. I might have been managing this without a partner to share the load. I might be one if the many who are finding themselves needing to go through this sorry process time and time again, aware of the terrible toll it takes on the confidence, security and education of their children and finding themselves powerless to avoid it.
There are lots of issues that need to be addressed in the UK private renting sector: lack of security for families; insufficiently regulated rents; a demand which far outstrips supply; inadequate procedures for dealing with ‘bad’ landlords, and last but not least, an overarching social belief that having a mortgage is inherently ‘better’ than renting a property.
Families in privately rented accommodation need security of tenure to encourage them to become full members of the community and to allow their children continuity in terms of education and relationships. At the very least this should be reflected in longer tenancy periods, the regulation of private rents and and maintenance of registers of 'rogue' landlords as Shelter’s campaign recommends. Ultimately, we can’t get away from the fact that our country really needs more houses, and a lifting of the cap on local council building would allow for this.
The private rental sector needs to be fair and less precarious for all, but particularly for young families. Politicians should stand up for the 9 million renters, acknowledge their concerns and fully commit to improving the situation for them.
By Fiona Elsted
Fantastically put. Blog points out many of the difficulties faced by families Privately renting. In addition to the above there is also the nightmare faced when trying to find property to rent in the first place. It is beyond belief how much some agents charge for 'administration fees' with no guarantee of a secure tenancy.
Renters really are held over a barrel
I haven't read the above in detail. I am disgusted that the difference between renting and owning made such a huge difference between your socio-economic class in a survey!
I was once told, but have never researched for myself, that moving homes can actually be emotionally damaging for children.
I wish the government would stop backing schemes that artifically make it possible for first time buyers - surely the answer is to stop doing this and let the house prices drop. A big yes to improving tenancy rights, a huge overhaul is required.
Wholeheartedly agree that housing is in an utter mess in this country. The first problem is that house prices are too high in many areas.
Hi Fiona, thanks for this post it is echoing my thoughts and experience. I am having to move again due to financial constraints. I have two children and two loved family dogs, one small, one large and giving them away would break my children's hearts. This narrows your search for a house even more...
An overhaul is required.
We have been blessed with professional, reliable landlords for the last ten years. We're close to outgrowing our current home, (of five years) and getting back into the process of looking for a secure home really frightens me. I'm more confident with feeling overcrowded than trying to find a four-bedroomed,long-term private rent.
This blog is excellent. I agree, legislation needs to change.
Good post Fiona. Can you (or anyone) tell us more about "the cap on local council building"? It seems iniquitous to me that any such thing exists in a time of such secure housing shortage...
I couldn't agree more with all your thoughts Fiona
they resonate with myself having rented for 10
Years in often sub standard accommodation
often to nervous to complain in fear of being
Kicked out! Yes It does play havoc with all
social issues. It is not a basic human right for
us all to have a decent and secure homes
For our families ! More affordable homes
for all I say, how hard can it be !
I am in the precarious position of saving a deposit to buy. DP and I have a 13 month old DC and we are getting married in July. We are busy, as you can imagine. We're also in the incredibly lucky position of having helpful family members, and they're trying to help us out with our deposit.
Our landlord is selling our house. We've no idea when he'll evict us, but evict us he shall. We have a cat, and this, combined with DC, makes finding a new rent incredibly hard. DS is settled at nursery but we can't afford to stay in the area. I worry about this a lot. On top of work and everything else.
It's likely we'll have to move twice in the next year - once into a new rent, and again when we buy. It feels like our foundations are around our ears until we can lay them somewhere permanent, and we're the lucky ones.
It's an awful situation and thank you for highlighting it. It seems as if everything is geared to keeping property prices sky high.
I'm disabled - my assistant has had to move out of private rented ex-council houses when landlords sold up at short notice leaving me with no help for the day - she can't even get on the council waiting list. Her kids have been moved, left their friends and possessions behind, etc etc. private renting is overpriced stress.
Build council houses and employ the unemployed, house the homeless and rebuild a civilized society
Excellent, I agree 100%. Especially on the emotional turmoil involved in moving home and lack of security.
As for that 'class' calculator, I really am perplexed by it. I know people from all of the occupations mentioned, and I may have been brought up in a certain class but that doesn't mean I drop a class if I make friends with somebody who is employed as a cleaner,or decide I want to watch some sport-not do I go up a class if I develop an interest in museums!
Not surprised at the assumptions, though.
No one seems to give a damn, either.
Estate agents are entirely unregulated, landlords are free to openly discriminate, a third of the homes don't meet the decent homes standard, section 21 allows LL to evict with no reason.
People are treated like absolute scum by punk ass agents.
And no one cares.
EVERY time someone posts on here about what they are going through private renting, it turns into a thread about how they can possibly make very poor financial decisions to buy or about council housing that does not exist.
There's at least one poster on here who is emigrating due to the private renting system here for families, and I'm certain more will as time goes on and more and more simply cannot afford to buy anything.
Thanks for your positive feedback Bramshott. With regards to your question, you might find this link useful-it explains it better than I can:
I'm overwhelmed by the positive comments about this post. I was prompted to write it because I know I am not alone in the experience I have had with private rented accommodation and in fact I know many who have experienced much much worse. I didn't really know what the reaction would be though so thank you for making it clear to me that I was right to take a risk!
I firmly believe that everyone deserves a decent home for themselves and their families. A 'decent' home (not a palace just a safe, secure, reasonably priced place which you can establish yourself in (ie for more than 6 months for instance). As many of you have pointed out, that really isn't asking too much.
Hear hear. We've finally bought, but for the last 4 years we rented from an incredibly decent and professional landlord. I am a commercial property lawyer by profession and some of the practices I have seen when renting prior to that were truly shocking. Tenants definitely need and deserve more legislative protection, and better and more stable options
I also agree about the social stigma, I hate debt and would have happily rented forever but felt a real pressure to 'buy'
I agree with this. Privately renting drives me up the wall but we are never realistically going to buy our own home. When I became pregnant wemoved to "the best area in the UK to raise a family" -which happened to be my hometown- only to find the majority of houses to let suitable for us were "No children, no pets". Landlords being absolutely ridiculous just because they could. We managed to get a house that allowed children, but had to re-home our two cats and pay at least £200 more expensive than the mortgage on a place like this would cost. And had to pay the agents £50 to renew the contract so we would be secure for another 6 months.
I would love to see landlords happy to offer ten year tenancies.
expatinscotland -I think I know something of the frustration it seems like you might be feeling. It's true that it feels a bit like we are being pushed constantly towards the buying option and that if you can't get beyond this stage then that is a sign of some inadequacy in the individual. I feel that anyway. Shelter have been putting a lot of their energy into highlighting the problems private renters sometimes face when things go wrong so we have not been entirely abandoned. However, politically I'm disappointed that Labour in particular have not proposed any changes to legislation that I am aware of which would really tackle the issues faced by private renters with families. I sense they are aware but maybe they just need lots of people to tell them how much of an issue this is for us?
I can understand completely why you might consider leaving the UK because of this, in other countries the renters have more protection and a higher status.
Thanks for engaging and giving feedback. It's really important to talk about this.
Plonkysaurus-what you describe is a truly stressful situation. The parenting side is all the harder when you are not sure how long you'll be able to stay where you are. I think we underestimate the inherent need most people have to settle somewhere and really put down roots. When you don't feel able to do that, it has profound effects on many other areas of your life.
Good luck with your plans.
I couldn't agree more with this blog! I lost count of how many times I've had to move, when I fill out a crb for work it's ridiculous. Now we have baby I worry more about our landlord deciding on a whim to kick us out. People keep asking when we are going to buy a house, I wish it was an easy process. X
I have been in the nightmare situation of desperately needing to sell my owned house and not being able to, due to recessions in the housing market. Also losing a lot of money when finally managing to sell. Renting a property has great advantages - you can move if you need to on almost no notice (eg to find a new job or move into a school catchment area, or because of problems with the house - eg building a supermarket opposite you or needing somewhere bigger). You don't have to worry about sometimes very expensive and difficult to fix maintenance issues. You don't bear the risk of reductions in house prices.
The rental market should be properly regulated. But don't knock the flexibility. And I'm not convinced that moving home is bad for children, if they can stay at the same school.
Totally agree. I can never afford to buy as a single parent the mortgage I would be able to get would require an enormous deposit that I simply cannot get. As a current PhD student I have calculated this using mortgage calculators with the kind of earnings I hope/expect on graduating from my PhD.
I looked into part rent part buy a while ago, that seemed to be a bit of a con financially although of course you are far more secure than private letting and can get a pet/put up a picture etc as you wish.
I am not entirely unhappy with renting, but the insecurity is always at the back of my mind. I think the security and cost issues can and should be resolved through increased social housing.
Oh, we are in HA property. The stigma surrounding this is pretty bad, too. But we privately rented as a family for years before this and it was a real shock to me, as I am from another country where the majority of the rented housing stock belongs to corporations, not individual investors, as the government has put severe restrictions on the practice of buy-to-let, wisely, as it is seen as a threat to the stability of the housing market.
There are no agents so much as finders, who are licensed and practice to much more stringent regulation. Or you may just show up at the housing campus' office and apply.
It is illegal to discriminate against tenants with children.
There are no inspections. The rules are usually that you may do as you please, but you must put everything back as you found it upon your departure or pay for it.
The system here is in dire need of reform but I do not forsee it happening.