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‘Generation rent’

“I hate the idea of you giving all your money to a greedy landlord. I wish you could get your own place.” My mum said this to me for the hundredth time. Inwardly sighing, I prepared to give the same answer; “I can’t afford to buy. The bank won’t lend me enough and they want a big deposit as well.”

 One day I might be able to give her the answer she wants but not yet. For I am currently a part of ‘generation rent’, a term often used in the media to describe the large number of people aged 18-40 in the UK who…. rent! I suppose it’s easy for my mum to say that, she got a mortgage with my dad in the late 1970s when home ownership was on the rise and I don’t think she is aware of just how hard it is to buy these days, but house prices have increased dramatically while the recession ensured that wages stayed much the same or were even reduced. Mr. Banker isn’t as willing to give out mortgage loans without a substantial deposit and banks are now allegedly scrutinising applicants’ minor financial outgoings and deducting this amount from a potential mortgage loan. Oh, and they mustn’t forget that credit score…….

So it’s hardly surprising that the majority of us younger people find ourselves ‘priced out’ of the housing market and are forced to rent instead and where there is misery, there will be people to cash in on it. Many private landlords are thought to be taking advantage of this situation by charging high amounts of rent. They know that the supply of social housing in the country doesn’t meet demand. They know that buying a house is almost impossible for many. They know that the only option for people who want their own space is to rent privately. And because there is no ‘cap’ on private renting prices, they know that they can charge what they like. For those who have a number of tenants in several properties, the smell of all that money on ‘Rent day’ must make them gag!

It’s a golden era for landlords, but a sad one for us tenants. Many of us find that the rent takes up a large portion of our wages. After bills, food and other living costs are taken out, we have virtually nothing left to save towards a deposit. If we rent through a lettings agency, we usually have to pay high fees too. To add insult to injury, many of us private renters also find ourselves in sub-standard housing because this sector is not currently regulated. It is believed that as much as a third of this housing is in a poor state of repair. I have been there myself and got the (mould-ridden) T-shirt. In my last three shared houses, I have had a combination of damp, vermin, freezing rooms and a boiler that broke down so often that the repair man had his own key to the property! The damp was so bad in one house that it made all of my clothes and bedding smell musty and feel clammy. Mould even grew on some of my belongings and I had to throw them away. There have also been numerous other annoying or unpleasant things to put up with.

I learnt that you are forced to keep on the good side of a landlord when I fell out badly with the one who owned the worst property I lived in. After I had made a few repair requests, he moaned that I complained too much! I was taken aback by this statement and felt annoyed. I was paying him good money so some of it should have gone on the upkeep of the house. We argued via e-mail for months about his failure to carry out some repairs and about him blaming us tenants for the mould. I hated going home and felt anxious, depressed and a bit stressed with it all. After I was, let’s say, ‘particularly vocal’, he increased my rent to both punish me and ‘encourage me to leave’. I asked for it to be reduced some months later because of the still poor state of the property and he evicted me instead. I still feel angry about it months later. I got kicked out so that he could get a tenant who would ‘pay up, put up and shut up’ instead! I discovered that ‘retaliatory evictions’ such as this are common and because of this many people are scared to complain. This makes it easy for a private landlord to get away with renting out a bad property.

I am too worried now to point out anything that may go wrong and am annoyed that I have been made to feel this way. Luckily, the house I am at the moment is nice enough. The landlord is a lot better too, but is as greedy as many others. He is raking it in, cramming five of us into what is technically a two bedroom house. An ex-house mate believed that the attic room may even be illegal to rent out because it is too small! However, my bad renting experiences seem like almost nothing compared with some tenants’ stories that I have read on the Internet! Some are truly shocking.

Apart from wasting money and living in a potential rat-hole, there is another negative thing about renting (especially privately.) The insecurity. You could get asked to leave for whatever reason, at any time. You are also aware that you will probably move on again of your own free will, so you always have a kind of ‘in no man’s land’ feeling. I know that I will have to go through the ordeal of moving all my belongings yet again at some point. It almost feels like the room I rent is just a place to store my belongings temporarily. I might as well rent a storage unit and live with them in that for a lot cheaper!

There is one good thing about renting though, the flexibility and not having to commit myself. If I found that I couldn’t stand my neighbours or that the house was haunted(!) or something, I could get going after only a short period of time instead of waiting months to sell it. It would be nice to have my own place though. Sometimes I feel jealous of people in cosy looking new-build houses with a nice garden. I also feel that I won’t be able to settle and feel more secure until I am either paying off a mortgage or renting through a social housing association.

Many other young people are also keen to get a foot on that all important first step on the property ladder. Why do we feel the need to own our own homes in the UK though? In the old days people usually rented and in other countries nearly everyone does. I personally think it is because many of our parents own their own houses and we feel inspired to do so ourselves. I feel like a bit of a loser for not being in a good position to buy, despite the fact that I am in the same boat as many others. I only know a few people around my age who have a mortgage. Everyone else is either also a part of ‘generation rent’, or they still live at home. Older people in shared houses seems to be more common than a few years ago too. The people I live with are older than me and I know of some others. Some older people are even choosing to move back to the family home to save money. It seems that you are no longer laughed at if you are in your thirties and still living with mummy and daddy. Even some married couples are having to do it. It’s not the best start to married life, but it is the only option if you want to avoid having to spend your potential deposit money on rent.

Evidently this will work. I once totted up the amount of rent I had paid over 7 years and got a bit of a shock. I could have put down a deposit of a fifth of the cost of an average house with it! Saving for a deposit takes so long now that the average age to buy a house these days is said to be 40! The sobering reality of this is by the time some of these people pay off their mortgage, they will not have much time to enjoy fully owning the property before they have to move to a retirement home!

Another worrying thing is that a lot of young people are in debt. Many are having to turn to food banks and pay-day loan companies. If they are stuck in the red for years before being able to save, what hope is there of them being able to buy a house at all? I have got enough for a smaller deposit and I still can’t buy yet. I wouldn’t get a decent mortgage loan amount due to my current income. I would only have the option of homes at the bottom end of the price scale and these usually need a lot of work doing on them. So I would have to use even more of my savings to carry this out, unless I managed to find a much better paid job. However, using most of my savings on a deposit and potential renovation is a scary prospect because this money is my ‘safety net.’ What if I was to lose my job or something else unexpected came along soon after buying?

Also, a work colleague’s experience suggests just how difficult it is to buy alone. He started saving for a mortgage when he was 18, moved out of the family home when he was 36 and got some help towards the deposit from his parents. And after all that effort, the house still needed work doing on it, is quite small and is located in a rough area of the city. Who starts actively saving for a house when they are a teenager? Plus, the ‘bank of mum and dad’ is not available to everyone. Only richer parents are in a position to help their children to buy. I personally don’t think it is fair on them though. Many will have had to pay out for a deposit once already on their own home.  Obviously it is easier to buy with a partner/spouse but I am currently not in that position. In any case, I would feel a bit insecure about doing that. If they either can’t or won’t pay their half of the mortgage for whatever reason, then I would be stuck with a payment that I wouldn’t be able to afford. Some people suggest me getting a place and renting out a spare room but I wouldn’t want the hassle that comes with being a landlady!

So it looks like I will still be lining my own landlord’s pockets for the time being and then hopefully move to social housing. I will try to keep saving some money too. The housing crisis will surely eventually improve but for the foreseeable future ‘generation rent’ is here to stay.

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