Yesterday, Britain’s Department for Communities & Local Government released the results of its annual English Housing Survey, drawn from interviews with households and data from lots of other statistical bodies.
As you might expect, the survey found that the number of people living in private rental accommodation is still on the up. Over the past decade, in fact, the proportion of the general population renting privately has almost doubled. As you can see from the figure below, these new renters seem to be people who, a few years ago, would have expected to have bought with a mortgage by now:
The increase is also mostly among fairly young people. In the 2003-4 survey, 21 per cent of 25-34 year olds rented; now, the figure stands at over half.
This surge in renting among those unable or unwilling to buy doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It’s almost the norm in parts of Germany, where nearly 50 per cent of the population rent. In individual cities, it’s higher even than that, reaching 80 per cent in Hamburg and even 90 per cent in Berlin. In places such as these, people don’t grow up assuming they’ll buy a home, even once they have a family.
But this year’s housing survey also shows that, if current trends continue, we’re damning a growing share of the population to living in lower quality homes that those in any other type of tenure. While rent caps may be unfeasible, better regulation of the sector – even to the levels of social housing – would go a long way to make renting privately a feasible long-term plan, rather than a horrible purgatory that people want to escape as soon as humanly possible.
1. Renters are sad
For the first time, this year’s housing survey included a section on “wellbeing”, based on respondents’ answers to questions like “How satisfied are you with your life nowadays?” and “How happy did you feel yesterday?”
The researchers then adjusted the results, controlling for factors like economic status, income or health, to identify the effect respondents’ housing situation had on their answers. Guess which housing type came out bottom? Yep, it’s those lucky renters.
Unsurprisingly, those who owned a detached house outright had the highest levels of satisfaction. Bastards.
2. Rental properties are badly insulated…
So it turns out that houses owned by the council, or by the people that actually live in them, have far better insulation than privately rented homes. In fact, privately rented properties are the least likely to have any of the three main types of insulation:
So yeah, that’s why it’s so cold all the time.
3. Most of the rental stock is really old
About 60 per cent of private sector homes were built before 1965: in other words, before double glazing was standard, and when cavity wall insulation, if you had it at all, was asbestos-based.
Luckily, there has been an uptick in new rental builds since the 1990s, so renters’ chances of spending less on heating than eating are improving.
4. They’re also the least likely to have a smoke alarm
In 2013, 88 per cent of all properties in England had at least one working smoke alarm. Only 83 per cent of private rented properties had one, the lowest of any housing type. This, as we’re sure you’re aware, is not good. Especially if there is a fire.
5. And the most likely to have damp
Privately rented homes were also the overall winners when it came to damp: 8 per cent had a damp problem, compared with 5 per cent of socially rented dwellings and 3 per cent of owner-occuped ones.
Better than that, in fact, they also top the charts for prevalence of every different type of damp:
Round of applause, everyone. Top effort.
6. Overall, they’re just not very decent
In the housing sector, the term “non-decent” doesn’t refer to ungentlemanly houses with bad manners; rather, it’s used to describe homes that fall short on basic living criteria set by the government, such as “being warm sometimes” and “basically not being broken” (we’re paraphrasing a little there).
In 2013-14, the most likely type of home to fall into the non-decent category was – drumroll, please – privately rented properties.
We’re off to cry in our privately rented flat now. If anyone wants to donate a house, please send the keys to the usual address.
If you’re experiencing an or all of these problems at your privately rented property and your landlord won’t do anything about it, try contacting the Housing Standards department at your local council.
Most graphs and all data sourced from the English Housing Survey, 2013-14.
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