New government legislation says that all privately rented homes must now meet minimum quality standards.
Britain is often characterised as a nation of aspiring homeowners. Unfortunately, for many people in the UK home ownership is becoming more and more out of reach as house prices spiral upwards. While there are all sorts of people proposing all sorts of solutions to this problem, most ideas centre around either bringing house prices down or making it easier for people to access large mortgages. One that rarely makes the headlines is asking more Brits to give up the home ownership dream entirely. But there are rich countries where the majority of people, including those on high incomes, choose to rent long-term. Germany is a famous example. Should Britain follow suit?
There can be substantial advantages to renting rather than buying. It makes it much easier to move to match your current circumstance - say for a cool new job or to upsize when you start a family. Tenants also aren’t usually responsible for fixing the various things that can go wrong with a building and its facilities. These sort of problems are often expensive and hard to predict. Indeed, having to shell out thousands for a new boiler or finding out that your home is worthless unless you retrofit its cladding constitutes a financial emergency for many people, severely impacting their bank balance and their wellbeing. Less buyer demand for property in the UK could also push the cost of housing down generally, improving everyone’s standard of living.
One reason why this is the case is because in the UK there is a big mismatch between the demand for decent, affordable housing, and the supply of decent, affordable housing (i.e. how much of it there is available). As everyone has to live somewhere, the tenants with the fewest resources have to take what they can get. As long as this remains the case, landlords will continue to hold substantially more power than tenants do, with the end result that it is their convenience, wealth and wellbeing that tends to be prioritised. Rents can be repeatedly raised. Tenants can be evicted without much warning. Repair requests can be ignored. Rules can be imposed which limits the tenants’ ability to make their own decisions, including on things like decorating and pet ownership. And many Brits will continue to conclude that purchasing property is the best way to protect themselves from encountering these problems.
However, many housing advocates are worried that the new rules will be hard for tenants, particularly the most vulnerable ones, to know about or enforce. In order to make a reluctant landlord comply with the regulation, the tenant would have to take them to court. But suing is a complicated, time-consuming and unaffordable process for many. And people may be particularly reluctant to take this route if they think there's a risk that they could be turfed out on the streets if they make a fuss about the person who owns the accommodation they are living in.
… most of us live in a home of friends, family, or with a partner. Our homes are like mini-economies, with their own systems of dividing up work, providing resources, and exchanging skill-sets. Not only do these affect our ideas of who does what on a wider scale, our homes themselves and where they’re located have an effect on the economy around us, and the economy we experience.