Generation Rent supporter Jaime describes what it is like to face a sudden rent increase whilst renting as a family.
My husband and I have two children, a boy of 6 and a little girl who’s 3. We were renting because, being self-employed, we faced considerable barriers to the mortgage market.
In the autumn of 2018, we moved to a 2 bedroom flat. I was at the time pregnant with our daughter.
Early days of the tenancy
The initial rent was £1,765 per month and we signed a two-year assured shorthold tenancy. But we almost weren’t able to take the place at all when my income didn’t pass the affordability check - I had been on maternity leave and my income had dropped and it was assumed it would drop again given that I was visibly pregnant with our second child. So, we decided to write to our potential new landlady, via the agent, effectively begging to her on the grounds that my husband had just been awarded a large contract, that I would get some maternity pay and that we had always been good tenants and never missed a rent payment in our entire lives.
Thankfully the landlady accepted us, and we moved into the new flat, which, for £1,765 per month was a bit tatty, cheaply fitted out, smelled of damp and had no TV aerial installed - but otherwise it was okay. We lived our lives and as time went by, we enrolled our son in the local school and our daughter with a local childminder. I worked locally and we were settled as a family, feeling part of the community. During this time, we did have an issue with mice and rats and failing appliances and our landlady reluctantly dealt with them in the cheapest way possible. We also experienced a break-in through the children’s bedroom due to no window locks being fitted. And some loss of our possessions due to mould - the property did not have a damp-proof course.
There was also a persistent damp problem in the kitchen that was not dealt with because “it’s not that bad and the quotes I’m getting in to fix it are too high”. She subsequently had the damp painted over, three times. We did not make a fuss about any of these things, or charge for damage to our possessions, we just requested they be dealt with.
In 2020, after the two-year tenancy was over, our landlady increased the rent by £35, an increase of nearly 2%, making it £1,800 per month, and asked us to sign another one year fixed term. We did so.
What happened when the landlord wanted to renew
Once this third year was up, in 2021 our landlady asked us again to sign another fixed term for a fourth year. She also said that she’d keep the rent at the same rate because we had been “excellent tenants”. However, in this time we had learned that in fact we did not have to sign another fixed term tenancy at all if we didn’t want to. That was our right as tenants. So, we made a decision that we didn’t in fact want to be locked into the place for a year as we were trying to raise a mortgage and if we were successful then we’d need some flexibility, we were also desperate to move on due to the damp situation and if we couldn’t raise a mortgage then we’d look to move to another rental locally. But moving is difficult, even without children, and costly and even more so when you’re forced to give two months’ notice. We knew that any house move would take us time and wasn’t in any way guaranteed. But with the law on our side with the rolling periodic, we were in a position that worked well for us: 1 month’s notice, triggered when we chose to. Perfect!
We informed our landlady that we were opting to move onto the statutory rolling periodic. This didn’t go down well. Our landlady told us that she’d “let us” do this but only for 6 months and then she’d be forcing us to sign for another year, and also that we wouldn’t be allowed to give notice in certain months, and that we’d also “have to” give two months’ notice - not one as the law states. We stood firm and said that we really wanted to just move over to the statutory rolling periodic, and asked her if there was a reason she didn’t want this.
Unaffordable rent increase
We heard nothing more from her and assumed that she had settled with the rolling periodic. Until a few months later - earlier this year - out of the blue, we received an email from the original estate agent stating that our rent was to increase by £200 per month to £2,000. An increase of 11% in the middle of the rental period. We wrote to her objecting. She replied saying that the market value of the property had increased and that she “took exception to subsidising our rent at a below market price”. To be clear, no one was subsidising our rent, she simply wanted more money than we were paying. She ended by stating that if we didn’t pay up and also increase our notice period to two months then she would simply give us two months’ notice to leave. She told us that the estate agents had told her to act in this way.
I was dumbfounded. It felt like such a slap in the face and immediately placed us in a position of helplessness. We thought we had the law on our side. We thought we had simply exercised our rights as tenants, but section 21 made a mockery of all of that.
We had no choice but to pay up and sign her terms. At a time when my husband’s income was (and is still) impacted by covid, and energy prices and the cost of living were and are exploding. Our disposable income has disappeared overnight, and we’re now left to budgeting for the basics every month. We looked around to rent immediately in the same area so as not to disrupt the children’s schooling and childcare arrangements but every estate agent we enquired with basically told us to get in the queue because demand was far outstripping supply. We didn’t even get to view anything in our search. Flats were being let before they were even advertised.
The precariousness of renting
Our landlady boasted on more than one occasion that she and her husband owned 15 properties. While the cost-of-living crisis is affecting everyone, I doubt it was affecting our landlord in the way it was affecting us. Her greed had forced us into a stressful situation overnight. Not only had our disposable income vanished we were now fully aware that we were letting from a person with no scruples. That the security of our home was in the hands of someone who acted without concern for the welfare of the people she had repeatedly called “excellent tenants”, without concern for the children who called her properly their home, the children she met on several occasions and cooed over.
We felt trapped and defenceless. Even when we paid up, she could still, at any point have evicted us. Just by deciding that we’ve perhaps got on her nerves by being impertinent enough to attempt to exercise our tenants' rights (by adopting the rolling periodic). When would that email pop through informing us that we have 8 weeks in which to pack up our entire lives and the lives of our children and find a new place to live? Or when will the next rent increase come? It could be at any time. This insecurity makes ordinary life suddenly very stressful. Our connections, our children’s stability, the little clubs they attend and the friends they’ve made. I would lie awake trying to think of ways out, or ways to protect ourselves but I couldn’t find any.
We need to change the system – we need to make sure landlords face the same checks as tenants and that we can still protect renters whose income has dropped and is still low because of Covid.
The current private rental market isn’t conducive to a healthy and functioning economy when people’s homes, their shelter, the place they keep themselves and their children safe is subject to harsh market forces. We’ve been stressed, unsettled and moved on. How does that breed a positive workforce, creative entrepreneurs, productive team members and happy children?
Something needs to redress that balance and bring some protection to renters who in the most part are ordinary honest hard-working people with responsibilities and rights.