Generation Rent – the cost-of-greed crisis

Poppy Pendelino says it’s becoming impossible for young people to rent on average incomes

It’s dubbed a ‘cost-of-living’ crisis. Everything is getting more expensive. From electricity to chips, from train fares to a bottle of Pinot Noir. However, I prefer a different phrase for this phenomenon. This isn’t a crisis of the cost of living, but of the cost of greed: this year, BP more than doubled its profits to £4.2bn – a massive 138% increase on last year. Boris Johnson has belatedly agreed a windfall tax. 

Nowhere is greed more apparent than in the cost of rented housing. Rents are skyrocketing across the country, and young people in particular are feeling the squeeze. Over April, Google searches for “rent increase” and “landlord put rent up” reached an all-time high in the UK, and private rents have surged nationally. 

The only protection the Government offers most renters is the caveat that, for existing tenants, rent rises must be “fair and realistic”, in line with “average local rents” – but there is no cap.

The Government has recently announced their long-awaited Renters’ Reform Bill, reversing some damaging Thatcherite rental reforms. The bill will protect renters by abolishing the pernicious ‘no-fault’ section 21 notice evictions. Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, has said it will enable tenants to “stand up to bad behaviour instead of living in fear”. More open-ended tenancies are also promised, plus rules that mean homes must be free from serious health and safety hazards, give you the ability to rent if you’re receiving benefits, and allow tenants to keep pets. Crucially, the Government has said it wants to end arbitrary rent review clauses which allow landlords to increase rents without justifying them. However, this isn’t guaranteed and doesn’t go nearly far enough as rents soar nationally. While elements of the bill are hugely welcome, what we need are hard rent restrictions to ensure affordability and restrict greedy landlords. 

My personal experience is much the same as many across the country. I live in a building in Manchester which is managed by the letting agency Northern Group. Between February and April, tenants across the building were shocked by rent increases of 12-16%. One tenant had an increase of 25%. This, alongside electricity bills of up to £200 for small 1-bed flats, increasing council tax, soaring cost of food and living (as well as wages not rising), has already forced tenants out. Many of us have lived here for several years. 

It is patently unfair that we will be forced out by such massive rent increases. The building has multiple issues including an unsafe car park, parcel thefts, broken communal doors, regularly broken lifts, poor electrics, leaking floors/ceilings and more. We collectively approached the landlord and offered a fair increase of 3.5%, as many had already had their rent increased by 2-4% within the last six months. We were met with outright contempt, an insistence that we were living in “high quality” flats, and that we simply didn’t understand the situation “for the landlord”. 

Despite involving our local MP and local councillors, having an article published in the Manchester Evening News and even securing over 100 signatures on a petition within the building against the huge rent increase, nothing could be done as there was no legal avenue to negotiate. 

Many are now moving out. This kind of abusive, predatory landlord behaviour is becoming ever more common. One of the landlord’s most galling points was “we didn’t raise rents during Covid”, conveniently neglecting the fact that people weren’t moving into cities during Covid and that they wouldn’t have actually filled the empty flats. Raising rents by up to 25% immediately after the pandemic is supposedly ‘over’ is also hugely against the spirit of supporting loyal, often struggling, tenants.

Just because we rent does not mean we should be treated like second-class citizens, and we deserve to be able to keep the homes we have made for ourselves whilst paying fair increases. Young people in this country are being crushed by the cost of living, making saving for a mortgaged home increasingly impossible. According to the ONS, average house prices in England increased by 9.4% over the year to January 2022 to £292,000. The average salary for a 29-year-old in the UK is just under £25k pa (2021). The average rent is £1,060 per month (2021). Over half of a single 29-year-old’s salary is therefore being spent on rent. At a £25k salary, the average house price is multiplied by well over ten times – without factoring in that half the salary is already spent on rent, soaring bills, and more. 

Millennials are expected to get 16% of their lifetime income from inheritance, and many are now advised to wait for this ‘windfall’ to buy. In other words, millennials are advised to wait for their parents to die – a completely macabre and economically unviable suggestion, regardless of how much avocado on toast we might eat. It’s time for rent controls in the UK. 

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