As a seasoned London renter, I’m used to paying through the nose to rent my flat, with almost 40% of my wages disappearing into my landlord’s pocket once a month.
So it wasn’t a huge shock to hear that rents in the UK are the highest in Europe at £750/month on average, according to new research from the National Housing Federation. (See our 50+ Renting Tips for help cutting costs and to know your rights.)
In other EU countries, such as Germany and Holland, where earnings are roughly similar, according to the NHF, rent is around 50% cheaper than what we’re paying.
Renters in the rest of Europe also only spend 28% of their wages on putting a roof over their heads, while those in the UK spend almost 40% of their wages on rent. The NHF has calculated that around 23 minutes of every hour worked in the UK is spent on rent. A pretty depressing and de-moralising thought.
On top of this, it says that private renting in the UK is one of the least secure in the EU. We have the shortest tenancies on average, and 77% of renters have moved in the past five years, compared to 43% for the rest of Europe.
Sky-high rents combined with unstable short-term tenancies have led to a volatile housing market, which means it can be increasingly difficult for anyone to get onto the housing ladder without a cash handout or lottery win (I’m still holding out for my lucky numbers).
Five changes I’d make to the rental market
The NHF blames under investment in housing and says we need 245,000 new homes built every year to keep up with growing demand.
Until that happens, I’ve come up with some immediate changes of my own, which I’d like to see implemented to ease the burden of renters across the county and avoid a potential housing crisis.
1) Bring in rent controls.
I believe the Government should introduce a rent control system, which means a tenant should never pay more than a maximum of 25% of their income on rent, and when a tenancy expires, the rent is only able to go up by a certain percentage.
2) A cap on administration fees.
The fees tenants have to pay for getting names changed on tenancies, checking in and out of properties, and getting credit checks can run into the hundreds and potentially thousands.
In my first London property we were charged £300 to change a name on the contract, and with no regulation, all we could do was moan (a lot) and then resentfully hand over the cash.
So I believe there needs to be a cap on these ridiculous fees and that each one should cost no more than the actual work it takes to carry out.
In Scotland, letting agency fees have been illegal since 1984, so why isn’t this the case for the rest of the UK? At best, there should be one set fee for all of these charges combined.
See our Renting guide for help on how to complain if you think fees are unfair or haven’t been detailed to you upfront.
3) More power to the property regulators.
However, they can’t legally force letting agents or landlords to do anything when problems arise.
Instead, I think it’d be better to have one central, independent organisation looking after private rental agreements in the UK. And when cases are ruled in the tenant’s favour, it will be able to order the landlord or estate agent to correct the problem and pay out compensation to the tenant.
4) Minimum-term contracts.
Part of the problem in the UK is short-term contracts where rents rise every year. It should be the norm for tenants to have the option to take out longer contracts if they choose to, of a minimum of three years, during which time both parties agree not to raise the rent.
This would give renters more security and the chance to plan for the future and save for their own deposit.
5) 24-hour ‘fixing’ agreements.
Letting agents and landlords should have a minimum time frame for fixing things in your property. Say, your boiler breaks or the pipes burst. It should arrange for the problem to be sorted within 24 hours or face a penalty charge, which would go towards your rent.
What changes do you want to see?
I’m not asking for unachievable things to happen, just five simple changes to make the property market a fairer and more just place for renters.
What do you think about my suggestions? Do you have your own ideas about how the rental market can be changed for the better? Let me know your thoughts via the comments section below or in our forum using the link below.