I stumbled across the VentYourRent hashtag on Twitter last week. It was started by Generation Rent in an effort to raise awareness of the appalling state of private renting in the UK and reading through the tweets from disgruntled tenants is eye-opening to say the least. They include countless photographs of mould-covered walls, stories of landlords completely disregarding the law and all manner of other horror stories.
Reading through them got me thinking about my own experiences as a private renter.
I’ve been renting since I first moved out of my family home 15 years ago. The first flat I moved in to was quite honestly a renters dream – reasonably priced, low and fair referencing fees as there was no agency involved, and decent fair landlords who fixed all issues quickly and without grumbling.
Unfortunately, the man I had moved in with was not quite so perfect and I found myself needing to escape the situation in a hurry when our relationship went down the pan. I needed somewhere else to live quickly and had no money saved.
Luckily a friend was able to put in a good word for me with her landlord and I managed to get a tiny 1 bedroomed flat above a kebab shop for £560 per month. The entire flat was the size of an average living room, but it was my own space and again the referencing fees were low and affordable. The flat served me well for a while and I had no major issues there, but when I met my current partner and fell pregnant we needed somewhere bigger as it just wasn’t suitable for a family.
We moved to a 3 bedroom house in a new town which was let through an agency. It was our first time dealing with an agency and we were shocked at the fees we were charged – we paid over £500 for “referencing” despite the fact that none of our referees were ever contacted. But by this time we had our new baby, and we were just keen to get on with our lives so we scraped the money together somehow, paid the fees and moved in.
Our only initial gripe with the place was that the second bedroom, which was to be our sons bedroom, was painted bright pink. We asked for permission to paint it blue for him, and were told we could go ahead and do it as it should have been repainted to white before we’d moved in anyway so we were saving them a job…great! Everyone was happy.
All was well for a couple of months, but then things started to go wrong.
First the oven broke…it was clearly incredibly old, and had just given up the ghost so we reported it expecting it to be replaced with no hassle. Instead we were told by the agency that the landlord was refusing to replace it…the agency insisted there was nothing they could do, that the oven was there as an “extra” and if It was no longer working it was our responsibility to buy a new one.
We told them that our contract stated otherwise, that white goods were supposed to be included and that we didn’t have the money to buy a new oven given that we were paying most of our income out on the rent and council tax, but they didn’t care. The landlord was refusing and that was that.
We didn’t feel that we were in a position to do anything about it as our 6 month tenancy agreement had ended and we were now on a rolling monthly contract which meant we could be evicted with a months notice at any time. We had a baby to think about and we were scared to rock the boat and risk being kicked out.
We spent 8 months using a tiny little halogen oven we’d got from a friend to cook our meals on while we saved up to buy a proper oven second hand.
The next problem came when, after a particularly rainy winter, we noticed that a leak had started in one of the upstairs bedrooms. The estate agent came out to inspect the leak and said that it looked like it had been going on for a while in the loft, so really it was our fault for not noticing it sooner and that the landlord wouldn’t be happy. He came back to us a week later to say the landlord would sort it “when he could afford to” and he wasn’t sure when that would be.
He suggested that we just stop using that room in the meantime because “it was a spare room anyway“.
A few months later, a second leak appeared…this time in the bathroom. We reported it and again the estate agent came out. Again he told us the landlord was having money trouble and probably wouldn’t be able to fix the issue for a while (the original leak was still not repaired by this point).
This time we stood our ground and said that it wasn’t acceptable to make us live with a leak in the bathroom – I told him that I wasn’t able to bath our little boy because there was water dripping on to his head when I did.
His answer? “Well he’s in the bath, he’s wet anyway. Does it really matter?“
I shit you not.
A couple of weeks later, both leaks still very much still unresolved, we got a letter through the door informing us that the landlord was selling and we were being given our months notice. And to add insult to injury, we had to leave the oven we’d bought …coz of course, all of the properties we looked at to move to next had their own!
The estate agent charged us £300 in fees after we moved out because we’d failed to paint the bedroom “back to white” despite us providing photographic evidence that it hadn’t been white when we moved in! We tried to contest the charges through an appeals process but they ruled in favour of the estate agent, so on top of having to find the money for extortionate referencing fees with a new agency…we were out of pocket again.
We’ve lived in our current home for 4 years now – we pay £850 per month. The house is too small for our family, the garden (its actually not a garden at all…it’s a garage roof that we’ve covered in artificial grass) is inaccessible and unsafe for the children to use, and most of the walls are covered in mould with the wallpaper peeling off…when we mention it to the landlords, we’re told it’s our fault for “Having furniture too close to the walls”.
We can’t afford to save for a mortgage deposit while we’re paying the rent we do, we live in constant fear of the landlords selling up or of “annoying them” into evicting us by complaining about the mould and damp because if they did…we’d be screwed as we don’t have the money to move thanks to the cost of referencing fees.
It would be my dream to be given social housing but we’re not eligible for it unless we’re evicted, and even then we’d have to spend a year in temporary accommodation before having any hope of being given a permanent home.
And so we’re stuck. Living in a damp, mould covered house that doesn’t suit our needs.
Lining someone else’s pockets every month AND paying the council tax on a house that belongs to them too, which seems unfair to me.
Hayley is a 36 year old Liverpudlian Mum of 3 boys aged 5 and under, currently living in Devon. She has wanted to be a writer since the age of 5 and stumbled into a career as a blogger in 2013 when on maternity leave with her first baby. Her proudest achievement (kids aside!) has been writing for Essentials magazine, and her dream is to figure out how the hell to become a “proper writer” one day. She fills her time starting books she’ll never finish, watching too much Netflix and eating biscuits.