“A horrible way to live”: how short-term renting affects family life
27 Sep 2016
We recently received this e-mail from Rachel*, a mother of a young son who had heard about our campaign for longer rental contracts. Here she explains the impact that unstable and insecure renting is having on her and her son’s life:
I am so pleased Shelter has picked this issue up, I’ve lost many tears over this and I’m sure I am not the only one.
This year my son moved up to junior school. He’s a very sensitive child – he spent the first two years of infants crying. We knew the transition was going to be tricky, so we (and his infant school) spent a long time working with him and preparing him for the junior transition. He has few friends but the two he has were going up with him, so all should have been fine.
At the end of July our landlord contacted us asking for a valuation to take place (alarm bells are immediately ringing), so an estate agent comes round and values both the rental income and the property value.
Our Landlord then contacts us asking for a 40% increase in rent as per the estate agent! We negotiated them down to 20%, but there we were realising we have been priced out of an area: the area our son was preparing to start school. His two friends are at that school, and there’s no way he would cope well with a change of school without his friends. So you make more cuts to life, work a bit harder, save less and hand over more money so you can keep your child at the same school.
We are on a rolling contract so are permanently two months away from moving. It is a horrible way to live. It never feels like home, and the anxiety it causes is immense. You don’t feel you can be part of the community as you never know when you might have to go. The more you put in, the more upset you are to lose it.
This is not the way I wanted to bring my son up, I wanted him to start and finish at the same school with his friends, I wanted him to feel settled, to have pets to love, to plant flowers, vegetables and fruit in the garden and watch them grow. To have a bedroom decorated to whatever this week’s craze or interest is. To be able to let him paint pictures in the house or play with play-doh (you can’t let the carpet get ruined in case you lose your deposit).
For him to know roughly what secondary school he will end up at, and know that he will be there with his friends. Even being able to put pictures up in the house, or light a candle – some contracts even specify no birthday cake candles! Renting affects every decision, as things you can do in one house you might not be able to the next, for example have a pet. Your lovely sofa might not fit in the next house, and shelves on the wall are a luxury we will never have!!! Even buying a trampoline for the garden: again you think “I can’t get that one as it might not fit the next house/ flat”.
It even affects your plans to have more children, as I wouldn’t chose this life for another child. I had the benefit of moving back to my parents at 25 after I left an abusive relationship, but we won’t be able to offer that safety net for our son. We constantly have to have savings in case our landlord does decide to evict us, so at least we have a deposit there and some help towards moving costs.
As you look further down the line, you see how the government are being so short-sighted. Imagine how large the housing benefit bill will be when generation rent retire (I use that term loosely as I know that retirement is a bit of a dream now!). Traditionally you would downsize your home to pull out equity to live on, or at the very least you would be living mortgage or rent free. Well generation rent can’t, and if we can’t save for a deposit we certainly can’t save enough for a pension big enough to carry on renting. So the housing benefit bill is going to be huge, and where are the suitable homes for us all? Let alone the fact when I pop off, all my son will get is a month’s notice to clear our rented flat out.
I know these are ‘first world problems’. We are lucky. I know we have a roof over our head (all be it a bit leaky, drafty with no central heating or double glazing!!) but this instability is no way to live. We could only dream of the stability council houses provide, let alone how amazing it would be to actually own and pay our own mortgage. I am ashamed of the jealousy I feel when friends are excitedly picking new kitchens or bathrooms, or moving. Financially they earn no more than us, they just got on that ladder earlier. That’s hard to take.
As you can see from the length of my email (sorry about that!) this is a constant worry, every day at drop off and pick up I feel sadness about it. I also know I’m not the only one. The uncertainty and lack of a settled life is going to have a huge negative effect on our children’s childhoods. I can remember reading a report on how detrimental multiple house moves are for the under 5’s a few years ago. Things like that obviously just add to the guilt you feel as a parent that you can’t even get this basic need right. The guilt, the anxiety it certainly doesn’t do your mental health any good, not to mention the cost in moving, letting agents fees, vans, boxes, and post redirection. It soon all adds up. It’s just really rubbish!
*The author’s real name has been changed to protect her identity.