Greedy Landlords, Extortionate Rent And No Rights. But Who’s Going To Stand Up For Generation Rent In The General Election?

You're overpaying rent on a house that probably should have been condemned ten years ago. So which politicians will have your back at the next election?Illustration by Beth Walrond

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by Erica Buist |

If there’s one thing that doesn’t scare politicians, it’s generation rent. You could put every young person stuck paying someone else’s mortgage in Parliament Square, give out free pitchforks and flaming torches, and politicians would still find us about as intimidating as a box of peckish kittens. Because we don’t vote.

That’s the line: young people don’t vote so politicians don’t care about them. In other words, it’s our own fault.

Of course, it’s also ESSENTIAL to ignore the fact that, according to BBC Analysis, even if every single young person went out and voted tomorrow we still wouldn't become electorally significant as a demographic for 30 years. THIRTY YEARS FFS.

So when it comes to deciding who to vote for as a young renter, you can’t do it in the hope of sending a message: these guys will be too busy dealing with their bad backs when it finally gets through. You have to look at what they already happen to be offering. So the question is: who should generation rent be voting for?

DISCLAIMER: The following is only a representation of what the different parties SAY they will offer if elected. Promises made by a party or individual politician may have little or no connection to reality.

**The Conservatives? **

Er, sorry to be predictable, but voting Tory to improve your prospects as a renter would be about as useful as voting UKIP to get more Romanian cuisine in your area.

I mean, it’s not all bad. They haven’t totally ignored renters. They mention them, um, once. They’ve pledged to deliver 10,000 new rented homes at ‘below market rent’ – but not only is ‘below market rent’ very vague, given the astronomical rents, ‘below market’ could still be quite a long way from affordable.

And 10,000? Well, in the words of the lottery: it could be you.

OK, so how about Labour?

In Labour’s housing policy, renters are more than an afterthought. Emma Reynolds, shadow housing minister, says: ‘I want to see tenants get a better deal.’

They’ve proposed to introduce a cap on rent rises (could they implement one starting five years ago, please?!) and standard three-year tenancies to avoid the annual ‘Am I going to be homeless or even more financially screwed?’ festivals we’re all forced to attend.

This issue of insecure housing tenure is affecting the mental health of our young renters: a poll commissioned by campaigners Generation Rent found that renters are 75% more likely to experience serious anxiety and depression than home-owners.

Labour also want a national landlord register and a ban on letting agent fees to tenants. This could be the winning ticket for some: Anna Jameson and her partner Mark viewed a lovely-looking flat on a hot summer’s day, the windows flung open to let in the light. When they moved in, it turned out the windows were open because the place was so soaked in cat piss it had become part of the integral structure of the building.

They cancelled the move on account of needing to breathe, and the letting agents – who are entirely unregulated in the UK – kept the £500. ‘They did have to open MS Word and print out a document though, so they earned their money.’ Laugh through the pain, guys.

We need 2.2m news homes built in the next Parliament.' Labour aren’t even proposing to build half of that

Don’t get too excited by Labour’s appeal for renter votes, though. Alexander Hilton, director of Generation Rent, dropped some truth on us regarding the lack of new houses being built: ‘Britain not only needs 243,000 new homes a year, but it’s also got a backlog of demand of 1m homes today, meaning that we need 2.2m news homes built in the next Parliament.’

Labour isn’t even proposing to build half of that. Why does that affect you, someone who’s already renting a flat? Because when demand goes up and supply doesn’t, rents go up.

The Lib Dems? The Lib Dems must have nailed it, right?

The Lib Dems want to increase the rate of housebuilding to 300,000 a year, making them the only party planning to build enough (ignoring the, um, 1m backlog). According to Shelter, the minimum we need to build to keep up with demand is 250,000 a year – Labour and UKIP have proposed 200,000.

‘However,’ Hilton pointed out, ‘unlike Labour, they’ve provided absolutely no details on how they’re going to do it.’

They also plan to incentivise social landlords to reduce the number of tenants under-occupying their homes as well as scrapping bedroom tax and bringing in a mansion tax. Great news if you want a better deal for the poor and a worse deal for the rich, but not much to help the young person getting milked by the private rental sector.

For example, voting LibDem wouldn’t be much use to writer Sean O’Meara, whose landlord refused to refund him the cost of pest control after a rat strolled in because an airbrick was missing where the bath was. ‘It had been filled in with a pair of jeans,’ he said.

The landlord denied the property had been left in a state of disrepair. Since no party seems to make a distinction between jeans and bricks in their housing policy, shall we all just build denim forts and charge people £1,300pcm to live in them?

**Right. So I’ll vote for the Greens then, shall I? **

The Greens mention the word ‘rent’ 18 times in their housing policy, more than any other party. They want to bring in rent control in the private sector and provide tenants with ‘additional legal protection’.

They don’t go into detail, but perhaps Nigel Tatschner and his husband Richard will vote Green in the hopes of getting their house into a liveable state: ‘We’re currently living in a place with a roof so damaged we can see outside, and get an indoor waterfall when it rains. We’ve reported it so many times but nothing is being done. The landlord says she will fix it after our renewal with the money she makes by upping our rent!’

When renting, it feels like all the protection is for the landlords. If any party offered better protection, we would jump all over them.

Can’t they just refuse to pay rent until it’s fixed? ‘God no – she would only evict us, and find new tenants who don’t care as much. When renting, it feels like all the protection is for the landlords. If any party offered better protection, we would jump all over them.’

Erm whispers UKIP?

UKIP want longer tenancies – three to 10 years – and more landlords to rent to tenants on benefits. Unfortunately, they don’t give any details on how they’re going to do it.

So, leaving aside the paltry buffet of what political parties are offering, what would actually help renters? Generation Rent has a few ideas, and is trying to convince parties to carry them out.

‘The first thing we want is a landlord tax,’ says Hilton, ‘£9bn a year of housing benefit is going to private landlords – plus landlords get all sorts of other tax breaks. Between capital gains and rental income, private landlords are making £77bn a year – which is bigger than the economy of Morocco – and they don’t even have to give up their day jobs.

‘If they pay, say 22% rental income tax, that would recoup the entire £9bn and we want that used to build social housing. An extra £9bn would build another 90,000 housing association homes a year, which would take 90,000 homes a year out of the private sector and into social housing, reducing demand on the private rental sector, which would reduce rents. It’s a Robin Hood tax for renters.’

They also want peace of mind restored to renters by abolishing no-fault eviction, the kind Nigel and Richard might face if they kick up too much of a fuss about their non-roof. At the moment, after six months, a landlord can get rid of you with two months’ notice for no reason whatsoever.

And for anyone who’s noticed that your council doesn’t seem massively interested in catching your charlatan landlord, Generation Rent suggests this is because when landlords are fined, the courts keep the fines. ‘If councils kept the fines (after costs to the courts), they would invest in enforcement,’ says Hilton.

Sure, they might not bust in the door with a SWAT team, but they might take an interest in the fact that in exchange for security, peace of mind and 40% of your income, you’ve been sold a rat mansion, a cat-piss palace or a leaky roof.

So, generation rent, who should you vote for?

Well, none of the above are exactly in your corner, but you can always vote for the party that most closely represents what you want while continuing to campaign for change. And if you can’t bring yourself to do that, then turn up anyway and spoil your ballot – maybe try drawing a little house and a sad face on your ballot paper if you really want to get your point across.

It’s not perfect, but until we’re a gang of terrifying old people it’s the best system we’ve got. Unless anyone’s on board with the Parliament Square pitchforks idea...

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Follow Erica on Twitter @ericabuist

Illustration: Beth Walrond

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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