25 Nov 2013
On Saturday afternoon I treated myself to a leg wax. Probably too much information for a policy blog but it provides context, I promise.
My beauty therapist was called Rachel,* and we had a chance to chat during the appointment.
Rachel is the reason that Shelter campaigns to fix private renting. Let me explain.
Rachel is moving house this weekend- she had been asked to leave her flat by her landlord. She was midway through a 12 month fixed term tenancy but she felt powerless to refuse- even though the law would be on her side. In search of a quiet life Rachel and her nine month old daughter started looking for a new home.
Rachel works full-time at a beauty salon; she commutes for an hour and a half each way. Looking after a young baby and dealing with London rents means that she still has to claim some housing benefit to top up her wages.
After her landlord illegally asked her to leave, Rachel spent two months looking for a new home. Every letting agent and landlord she visited presented her with a ‘No DSS’ notice. Even though she is in full-time employment, and has always looked after her home, Rachel was discriminated against because part of her rent is paid by housing benefit.
In desperation, she considered presenting herself as homeless to her local council. With a baby to think about, and seemingly no hope of finding a landlord that would accept her, this felt like her only option.
In the nick of time Rachel found a flat, but she doesn’t know how long she’ll be able to stay. Rachel has had to move three times in 15 months – each time forced to by her landlord asking her to leave or failing to guarantee decent conditions.
Three weeks before her daughter was born she was forced to end her previous tenancy. The damp and condensation in her flat had got so bad she was starting to have respiratory problems. Over five months, she repeatedly asked her landlord to fix the problems, but nothing happened. When she had previously complained to the council, she was aggressively threatened by her letting agent. Wary of complaining to the council again, and desperate not to damage the health of her baby, she had to start the search for a new place to live.
To add to the stress of constant moving, Rachel has been forced to take out several loans to cover letting agents’ fees and the costs associated with starting a new tenancy. All she wants is a stable home to raise her child. I asked her if she’d like to be given the option of a longer tenancy, where she couldn’t be thrown out at the whim of a landlord. Her answer? Absolutely.
This is why we campaign to give more consumer power to renters.
Rachel has no choice but to rent and she has little hope of saving for a deposit- private renting is likely to be where she raises her daughter. But she felt unable to complain about being evicted illegally. She felt moving on was the only way to improve her situation when her landlord wouldn’t do repairs. She was driven to the bottom of the market with no choice over what home to rent because she’s on a low wage. And she didn’t dare ask for a longer tenancy. The intimidation she’s experienced has made her feel powerless.
Until we dramatically improve the market power of renters, and make longer tenancies a genuine option, England’s 9 million renters will never be able to demand the safe, decent, stable homes they are entitled to.
*Rachel’s name has been changed to protect her identity.