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Cracks in the Foundation: Unraveling the Deterioration of the English Rental Market

Wednesday, 01 November 2023 10:19 Opinion

"Housing Havoc: The Crumbling State of the English Rental Market"

In the tumultuous landscape of the English rental market, the cracks are not merely surface-deep – they threaten a full-scale collapse. A disheartening reality unfolds for renters who find themselves uprooting almost annually, navigating the perpetual uncertainty of unstable living conditions. As life's most stressful events go, moving house, akin to divorce and childbirth, has become an unsettlingly frequent occurrence for tenants in certain English property hotspots.

Recent research by Cornerstone Tax, a property tax consultancy, paints a bleak picture. A staggering 19% of renters, through no fault of their own, have been compelled to relocate at least five times in as many years. The driving forces behind this nomadic lifestyle are rising rents and landlords choosing to sell their properties. Despite tenants faithfully paying rent, overlooking unattended repairs, and maintaining a peaceful living environment, the specter of eviction looms large.

The insidious Section 21 no-fault eviction order allows landlords to oust tenants with a mere two months' notice if they believe they can reap greater profits through platforms like Airbnb. This precarious situation is not exclusive to the young and insecure; even those nearing retirement find themselves vulnerable. Shockingly, one in four renters over 55, as revealed by Shelter's survey, admitted that the constant fear of potential eviction negatively impacted their mental health.

The tales of housing woes led to the proposal to scrap Section 21 orders, a move Theresa May announced in April 2019. However, despite promises and manifestos, the ban on no-fault evictions remains elusive. The recent backtracking by Secretary of State Michael Gove, citing the need for changes to the court process, further exacerbates the plight of renters.

Amidst this turmoil, landlords, facing financial pressures from soaring mortgage rates, the removal of tax relief, and the expenses associated with upgrading older properties, contemplate selling up. A disconcerting 15% are considering exiting the market, leaving a potential void in rental availability.

The English rental market, once a symbol of stability, now stands on shaky ground. As the government hesitates on much-needed reforms, the lives of countless renters hang in the balance, boxed up in a cycle of uncertainty, awaiting a resolution to the housing havoc that threatens their very sense of home.

Few will mourn the demise of buy-to-let, and while the exodus of landlords may appear promising for first-time buyers, the repercussions are far from a silver lining for everyone involved. The transformation of shared houses into snug abodes for two by developers could lead to a faster depletion of available rental properties than the dwindling pool of individuals still in pursuit of them. In an unsettling twist, some councils report unscrupulous landlords evicting tenants only to offer the property to the council at a higher rate, creating a cycle of temporary accommodation for those they've just rendered homeless.

The housing market finds itself caught in a disconcerting loop where each problem exacerbates the next, and quick fixes only deepen the long-term crisis. At the lower end of the spectrum, conditions are dire. Housing allowances, frozen for three years amid escalating rents, leave only 5% of private rentals on Zoopla affordable for those on housing benefit or universal credit. This predicament forces an increasing number of individuals to rely on strained council housing services, raising concerns that some councils may be on the brink of financial collapse.

Even in more affluent circles, frustration mounts as well-off homeowners witness their university-bound offspring struggling to secure housing. The solution, glaringly obvious, involves building more homes for both social and private rent and reinstating the value of housing allowances. Yet, senior Tories are championing a manifesto pledge to cut stamp duty, a move that is poised to trigger a short-lived surge in house prices without addressing the root issues.

The housing market is now dysfunctional for both renters and landlords, setting off consequences that ripple far beyond both realms. As the country grapples with the aftermath, the process of rectifying this tangled web will extend long after the current prime minister has moved on. The pressing need for a comprehensive and sustainable solution looms large on the horizon, challenging policymakers to address the systemic issues at play.

The housing market in its current state stands as a testament to the tangled complexities and systemic failures that have repercussions across all strata of society. The demise of buy-to-let, while offering some respite for first-time buyers, unveils a host of issues that extend far beyond the interests of landlords and tenants. The transformation of shared housing into more lucrative configurations by developers threatens to exacerbate the shortage of available rental properties, creating a domino effect of housing instability.

The disturbing practice of unscrupulous landlords exploiting the vulnerability of tenants, evicting them only to offer the property to councils at inflated rates, adds another layer of injustice to an already dire situation. This cycle of temporary accommodation perpetuates a crisis that touches the lives of those left without a stable home.

At every level of the market, from desperate conditions for renters to frustrations for well-off homeowners witnessing the struggles of their offspring, the housing market is revealing its dysfunctionality. The prescription for this multifaceted malady lies in comprehensive solutions—building more homes for both social and private rent and reinstating the value of housing allowances. However, the prevailing political discourse seems to be fixated on short-term measures, like cutting stamp duty, which only serve to exacerbate the existing problems.

As the repercussions of a dysfunctional housing market continue to unfold, the nation is faced with a prolonged and challenging process of rectification. The need for visionary policies that address the root causes of the crisis is more pressing than ever. Long after the current political figures have moved on, the consequences of a broken housing system will persist, necessitating sustained efforts to rebuild a market that works for all stakeholders involved.

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