“Could this be legal? British tenants driven from their homes by soaring rents | Property rental

Margaret Perry wants to buy a house one day. But increases in his energy, water and council tax bills in recent weeks have undermined his ability to save. Then, on Easter Monday, her landlord called to say the monthly rent for her shared home was rising by £500.

Instead of £675 a month, plus bills, for her room in Haringey, north London, her rent would rise to £825, a 22% increase. “It’s just not an option,” said Perry, who earns around £30,000 a year and lives with two friends. “It’s hard enough as it is.”

The 31-year-old screenwriter is one of a growing number of tenants put at a price by rising rents.

Over the past month, online searches for ‘rent increase’ and ‘landlord raised rent’ have reached an all time high in the UK, according to Google trend data – and average private rents have risen to nationally compared to pre-pandemic levels.

“More people have had their rent increased in the last month or so than we would normally see,” said Anny Cullum, policy officer at tenants union Acorn. “It can be landlords worried about the cost of living and passing that on to their tenants. Food prices are going up, fuel is going up, energy is going up, and people are really feeling the pressure.

Government guidelines say that for existing tenants rent increases must be ‘fair and realistic’, in line with ‘average local rents’ – but there is no cap on how much they can charge.

Proposed changes can be challenged in rents court. But for many, like Perry, “the stress of it isn’t worth it.” Between January 2019 and August 2021, just 341 rent court cases were heard nationwide, according to campaign group Generation Rent. And even if the tenants win, they can still be evicted if the landlord serves a “Section 21 notice,” triggering a no-fault eviction.

Perry and his housemates attempted to dispute the rent increase directly with the landlord, offering to pay £70 more on top of their current monthly rent of £2,350: “We wrote a heavily worded email: ‘We let’s not pay for that.” But he said, “I’m going to kick you out.”

The three friends can’t afford the extra £500, so they risk being uprooted. “It’s exhausting and stressful. It’s as if, as tenants, we were 100% disposable. You see somewhere like your house and you go to bed, then a phone call can get rid of it.

App developer Phillip Caudell, who is due to leave his flat in Bermondsey after a monthly rental increase of £650. Photography: Andy Hall/The Observer

In 2020 and early 2021, demand for city center properties – particularly in London – plummeted as pandemic restrictions eased. But now the cost of private rental is climbing in the capital and nationally, with prices in every region higher than they were before Covid, according to property website Zoopla.

In February, the average monthly rent was £984, up 8.8% from March 2020 – with the biggest increase in the South West, which saw a rise of 15%.

Chestertons, a London lettings agency serving some of the capital’s most desirable areas, said the average monthly rent for its properties in 2022 was £2,864 so far, a 22% rise on the figure from 2019 from £2,348 per month.

For potential tenants, this means additional competition for properties. “They can be very creative because they obviously want to stand out,” said rental manager Richard Davies. “We’ve seen examples where people have put together a presentation or created their own mini-webpage, complete with a profile of their pet and pictures of the food they like to cook. A couple told how they met.

In Manchester, another rental hotspot, graphic design student Chris Coppen has decided to stay put despite a “crazy rise” in his rent.

The 29-year-old, who lives with his partner and two housemates in Salford, works in retail and has just seen his wages rise by 6.8% from £9.18 an hour to 9, £80.

But in March he learned the rent for the house he has lived in for three years will rise by a third, boosting his share to £112.50 a month. “I almost choked on my Cheerios,” he said. “I was like, ‘This can’t be legal, surely?'”

The owner also demanded an additional £519 deposit. But they really don’t want to leave – and other properties in the area have also gone up in price. “We’ve made a living here,” Coppen said. “So even with the crazy raise, uprooting all of that would be a lot of mental work and financial pressure that we don’t need while we’re studying.

“If we moved, we had to pay the same price to get less than what we have now. So we just had to take it, really. I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’re going to make it work.

Meanwhile, Julie Clark, 33, from Lowestoft, Suffolk, recently received an email saying the rent for the terraced house she moved into in June 2020 would rise by £50 a month, from £600 to £650 – despite rotting floors and a broken boiler.

She and her partner, who works in the public sector, managed to negotiate it down to £25. But for Clark, who claims universal credit, even that increase seems unmanageable on top of rising energy, food and clothing costs for his two young children.

“We were already on point before all of this happened. All it takes is something else to come up and we’ll be really stuck,” she said. “There is no safety or security.”

A couple walk past an estate agency in London
Estate agents are reporting increased competition between tenants in the UK market. Photograph: May James/Reuters

Campaigners say greater protection is needed – including caps on rent increases in line with median wage increases, or a three-year freeze on increases for existing tenants.

Generation Rent is also calling for the removal of a loophole that allows landlords to demand six or 12 months’ rent up front – something politician Sophie Delamothe said was becoming increasingly common. “It used to happen with international students who might not have a guarantor, but it’s increasingly being used as a security measure,” she said.

Previous attempts at reform have been thwarted. There are plans to ban no-fault evictions under the next Tenant Reform Bill, but in 2018 proposals to give tenants a minimum three-year contract – which would allow them to move away but to prevent them from being deported in the short term. – were abandoned by the government after a violent reaction from the owners.

The National Residential Landlords Association, which has 90,000 members, said it opposed reforms such as rent controls, which it said would “deter investment” in the area.

Meera Chindooroy, campaign manager at the NRLA, said the rent hikes were fueled by rising costs for landlords – including inflation, energy prices and the costs of materials needed for repairs, as well as supply and demand pressures. Many landlords “won’t seek to raise rents at all” because it is “in their interest to keep tenants in the property if they have a good relationship with them”.

It’s no luxury that’s been afforded Phillip Caudell, 30, an app developer from Bermondsey, south-east London.

He found out last week that his rent had been increased by £650 a month – a 25% increase that he and his partner, a teacher, cannot absorb. “We are still in shock,” said Caudell, who has no choice but to leave the two-bedroom apartment where he has lived for two years.

He called for reforms to level the playing field for tenants. “At the moment it feels like the owners can say whatever price they want, and we have to pay it,” he said. “I can’t blame our landlord; at the end of the day, it just does what the owners do. But it’s to the detriment of people like us.

Abdul J. Gaspar