I first rented in London 18 years ago.
My housemate and I moved three times, every six months, to three different converted flats, on the whim of our landlords.
Inconvenient? Yes. But nothing like the traumatic experience it can be today.
There was a plethora of choice within budget, any rental growth between properties was incremental, and we were not pitted against a queue of other desperate tenants.
She had the higher salary to get a mortgage and I had some deposit, so we got on the housing ladder together and my focus changed, as a reporter, too.
Traditionally and collectively, politicians, parents and grandparents — particularly of the baby boomer generation — and we in the property press have been, and still are, fixated on house prices and the dearth of homes for sale in the capital.
Over the past decade I have written countless stories on the failure by national and local government (in conjunction with the housebuilding industry) to meet already inadequate targets for such stock. I have called for a healthier supply of apartments for first-time buyers, and for more three-bedroom+ homes and gardens within the M25 for upsizing families.
But until recently I failed to focus on the quietly escalating crisis in the rental sector, which is in tatters after decades of neglect — despite the fact that 50.6 per cent of households are either in the privately rented sector or rent from a local authority.
"I failed to focus on the quietly escalating crisis in the rental sector, which is in tatters after decades of neglect"
There are not enough homes for the number of tenants, resulting in rents rising at a record pace. According to new data from Hamptons, an individual living alone in London will pay out 63 per cent of their income on rent, that’s £2,287 a month across London.
At Homes & Property we are inundated with stories of landlords and management companies hiking the rent by more than 30 per cent — with little warning — “in response to inflation” (although clearly way above inflation).
This is taking its toll on our talent. In 2012, 28 per cent of tenants on the move left London. In 2023 this is now 40 per cent (Hamptons data).
Of course, there have been headlines and policy: there’s the question of rent capping and (quite rightly) the Renters Reform Bill to protect the rights of tenants.
Then there’s the tax burden on the landlord — when it comes to pursuit of revenue from the sector, the Government has been doggedly proactive. However, the only interventions have been around regulation and tax, not supply.
As well as this lack of building for rent there has also been a reduction in available homes for rent.
"The reason the rental crisis has been mostly a silent one — stealthily gathering pace"
Small, private landlords are choosing to sell following the scrapping of interest rate relief on buy-to-let mortgages. The stock that has been delivered is often inappropriately priced for most young professionals in London.
I am invited to the launch of too many “build-to-rent” blocks that are billed as “boutique” (aka luxury), with residents paying for gyms and swimming pools, often designed to snag wealthy overseas students. I also see too many architectural vanity projects where vast apartments have been carved out of historic buildings aimed at the global high net worth individual.
Instead, I want to visit (or see plans for) blocks dedicated to affordable rental homes, or council homes for subsidised rent aimed at key workers, graduates, young professionals or the vulnerable, and not just in Zone 6.
The reason the rental crisis has been mostly a silent one — stealthily gathering pace, but highly predictable — is because tenants are not a priority group for any government.
They all see homeowners through an economic lens. If house prices are going up, homeowners feel wealthier and they spend more money in other areas such as leisure, retail, travel, renovations.
"What is desperately needed today in the Chancellor’s speech is a holistic housing strategy"
But surely the same applies to tenants.
If they are spending a fair and sensible proportion of their income on housing, they can then afford a holiday, or save for a deposit — if that is a personal aim.
It is a human right to be able to afford safe shelter without it curtailing every other area of your existence.
Yes, you should be able to afford your rent and a flat white.
Another problem has been the siloed approach to housing. The sales and rental sides of the market are completely intertwined and the mortgage crisis has not just impacted mortgage payers. The more unaffordable it is to buy a home, the higher the demand to rent and the higher the cost of renting.
The under-supply of both streams distorts the property journey and ultimately broadens the chasm between haves and have nots.
What is desperately needed today in the Chancellor’s speech is a holistic housing strategy that tackles rental and sales supply side-by-side with a special focus on the capital and its high proportion of renters.
For my small part, I accept collective culpability for a lack of focus on the rental crisis.
Now it’s your turn, Jeremy Hunt. I’m not holding my breath.