The Renter’s Rant

*My rental story is all too common, particularly in this current climate. It is a story with a happy ending, preceded by one of the most angst-laden periods of my life.

I’ve always been an inveterate mover.  I have owned properties in the past – if you call having a mortgage owning. Fifteen years ago I decided it was time to go back to renting after I sensed, correctly, a change in the property market and got out a week before the collapse in 2008. As a single freelancer working in the arts on a fluctuating income, I have always aimed at keeping my outgoings as manageable as possible. When looking for a new place to live, I’d put the word out through the grapevine as well as looking at private rental adverts. It was a system that worked seamlessly until this recent episode.

For six years, from 2016, I lived happily in a quirky little sea-view flat in Central St Leonards at an affordable rent. It was owned by an elderly friend who lived below me and I kept an informal eye out for her, sharing a gin and tonic now and then.  I was aware that I would most likely have to move when she died, but as I’d always found places to live easily, it didn’t concern me. After her death in 2021, I was informed by her family that it would be two years before they did anything with the property, giving me time to plan my next move.  However, eight months later, I was given six months notice to leave, just as the rental prices started to go through the roof. Nobody could have foreseen what was going to happen.

As soon as I was given notice, I put the word out through the grapevine. I went to see a pokey one bedroom flat in the process of being done up, which would be let at £695pcm, nearly £300 more than I was at that time paying. This seemed extortionate for what was on offer and I turned it down, feeling confident something better would show up. Then the prices started rocketing upwards.  I couldn’t get my head around it.  Being self-employed, and with a basic state pension, I earned what I considered enough to live on comfortably.. As it began to sink in that the extortionate rents weren’t going away, my disbelief turned to anger. How did anybody in the property game think that those on low to average incomes could suddenly magic a further £300-500 out of thin air to pay for a roof over their head?  It simply didn’t add up.

I began to actively put the word out and contacted Citizen’s Advice, and other agencies who could only offer suggestions of staying put, waiting out the section 21 period, getting evicted and being re-housed that way. Call it stubborn or what you will, but I wasn’t ready to be packaged up and put through a failing social system that was crammed with people far worse off than me.  I persisted with my way and through somebody I knew I was offered a temporary studio flat at a rent that was just about affordable. It had been refurbished with Air B&B in mind, and was perfectly acceptable as a place to lay my head whilst I looked around for a permanent solution.

When I moved I let go of a lot of my furniture, keeping my basic belongings with me. I felt deeply disempowered, and it took me some time to readjust to the new climate that we had entered in the UK. I call it “Nouveau Pauvre”. Then out of the blue, a friend told me of an empty property near where I’d previously lived and suggested I put a note through the door saying I would be interested in renting it. I knew the owner by sight as I’d passed the property many times. Even though it was a wild shot, I wrote a note, put it through the letterbox and forgot about it. Four months later he contacted me and asked if I was still interested in renting the place. I went round to see it, liked it and said yes, if I could afford it.  He told me he just wanted a good tenant and didn’t care to overcharge. I held my breath as he suggested the rent. It was exactly what I could afford!  After ten months in transit I finally moved into my new home.

I consider myself fortunate, and my heart goes out to those, and there are many, who are in positions far worse than mine.  What I feel about the current housing situation would warrant an article all of its own but I suspect what I’d really like to say would not be printable!

*I was asked to write this article for a local newspaper about my personal experience of being evicted from my flat just as rents escalated into the realm of ridiculous. To add some context, I live on the south coast of England, where earnings are lower than they would be in, say London, where earnings and rentals would be considerably higher.