As high house prices push Britain into becoming a nation of renters, the rights of tenants often seem to be left out. Do we need more regulation to keep rogue private landlords from taking their tenants for granted?
It’s over six months now since my housemates and I scrubbed the carpets, defrosted the freezer and fished the beer bottles from the pond in the garden of our student house.
The memories of sleeping in a poorly insulated converted garage still linger, and I think I’m entitled to make my debut Conversation a bit of a rant.
Students are encouraged to choose their house at the beginning of their second term of university. It’s a mad rush, competition is fierce and campus is rife with rumours, such as a housing shortage, burglary in certain areas and evil landlords. Fortunately, only one of these rumours turned out to be true for me.
Rogue landlords exploiting tenants
Fresh faced, we embarked on the grown-up process of renting a property. The least damp-smelling house won the day, with lovely cream carpets and a converted attic room. Our smugness was short lived. We arrived in September to a house that clearly had not benefited from a professional clean. I found a novelty wig in the cupboard under the stairs, and a whole host of debris under my bed.
Of course, worse was to come. The walls behind a fitted wardrobe were black with mould, rising damp in the living room, a broken boiler for ten days as the snow set in, and my personal favourite: being charged an imaginary parking fee of £889 for allowing my housemate’s boyfriend to park his van on our drive.
We were a naïve bunch in need of a responsible landlord to smooth our transition in to independence. This was not to be. The damp was merely painted over, and we were ordered to ‘keep the window open at all times’ – hardly realistic with our budget for heating.
Our boiler concerns were addressed by his ‘mate,’ who only fitted us in at the end of his long day of paid work. As for the van, after checking our contract and consulting with a (family friend) lawyer, we sent them a rather official letter. The issue was never mentioned again, proof that this was just another way to milk us for cash.
Do we need regulation?
The current government scrapped plans to regulate private landlords, stating that ‘the vast majority of England’s private tenants are happy with the service they receive’. I am yet to meet a recent graduate without a similar tale of woe and find this a little hard to stomach.
As students rarely stay in a property for more than a year, there is little impetus to pursue complaints. Sure enough, a chance meeting with the new tenants of our property confirmed that they were in a similarly outrageous situation to our own. They were looking at a £1,000 fee per boyfriend that regularly stayed the night.
Like most of my peer group, I expect to live in rented accommodation for many years to come. Indeed, the number of new private tenants increased by 24% in 2011.
There are many fantastic and accommodating landlords out there, but this isn’t the experience across the board. Which raises the question – do private landlords need to be regulated? Without regulation, tenants at least need more support to know what to look for, what to ask, and which landlords to avoid.
And this isn’t just a problem for students; it’s a problem for the whole rental market. Although I live in a ‘ grown-up’ house now, my boiler’s been down for a month. When my landlord will get it fixed, who knows.