The Affordable Housing Commission defines ‘struggling renters’ as those of us who spend more than one third of our income on housing costs. It’s a widely-used measure. It doesn’t acknowledge how much harder it is getting through the month on £913.20 (two-thirds of London Living wage, based on a 35 hour working week); or trying to survive each week on £188.53 (two-thirds of the minimum wage in London) than living on £1687.75 (two-thirds of £2531.63; take home pay from average London salary, apparently). Then, ‘flexible’ and ‘zero hours’ contracts make it very hard for many Londoners to calculate how much of their income will be spent on rent. Some months, it could be as much as 48%, other months, much less.
Those who can access state support are included as a separate group for the purposes of this research, as are retirees. In Spanish, retirees are jubilados (as a celebratory aside).
Of course, Renters’ Rights London will be submitting a response, based on the experiences of renters we meet, or who have contacted us, and on data from our short survey. Every response to our ‘Affordability’ survey (which is entirely anonymous) helps to improve the accuracy of our response. If you haven’t completed the survey, please do? And please forward it to friends, family members or co-workers?
But it’s not all about Renters’ Rights London. Everyone is invited to email any views and suggestions to email@example.com. Here are the questions to consider. If your views are not to be cited or quoted, you can add that to your response. The deadline for submissions is the 4th April, 2019.
But Renters’ Rights London receives more requests for help from people with shared tenancies than from any other group of renters. This does not necessarily mean that renters with shared tenancies have the worst problems. But it does means that we’ve learnt a lot about the pitfalls of shared tenancies.
As with any other tenancy, your deposit should be protected within 30 days of the start. The landlord or agent must give you details of which government-backed scheme your deposit is registered with. It’s become quite common for people to pay their deposit money directly to whoever is moving out of the room they are about to rent. If you do this, you should get something in writing to confirm how much you have paid, and on what date. There’s no format for this; a quick email or sms text message will do. If it’s via text message, take a screenshot and store that image away from your phone. The landlord or agent is still responsible for protecting your deposit money. They must inform the scheme in which the original deposit was protected, of a change of details.
The landlord or agent should also carry out inventory checks before you move in. On the day you move in, take photographs of your new room, and most especially, of any damage. It’s best to take date-stamped photos, if you can. Store the photos in a cloud or email them to yourself. Send photos of anything which could be called ‘damage’ to the landlord or agent as quickly as possible. The date stamp is because this may not happen on the same day but ideally, it will. Add a covering email to confirm that this was the condition you found the room in when you arrived on X date. This is so that you can challenge any deduction from your deposit money, if it’s made for damage you did not cause.
Another problem with places listed online by renters is something which might be understood as ‘misleading action’ or ‘misleading omission’ if a landlord or agent had advertised the room themselves. Eager to exit a shared tenancy for whatever reason, of course renters describe the house, and the other occupants, in the most favourable possible terms.
No-one is going to place an ad which says “The only thing separating this flat from the one next door is a pair of Billy bookcases“. Nor “After six months, I’m moving out because mice have moved in“. Nor “The other two have been best friends since Year Seven and have developed a secret language, which they use as a weapon.” But at Renters’ Rights London, we have learnt that such things really do happen.
If you are leaving a shared tenancy, and tasked with finding your replacement, please send a copy of the wording of the ad you intend to place to the landlord or agent? Ask them whether there’s anything missing from it. If they respond to confirm that it’s all good, please be kind enough to forward that correspondence to your replacement, in due course. Do this and your replacement might be able to argue the agents’ liability for any misleading omission, if necessary. Although this wouldn’t apply to the other housemates’ secret weapon, of course.
In the past, landlords’ agents have been known to apply high charges to either the outgoing or incoming tenant, for changing a name on the joint tenancy agreement. From 1 June, when the Tenant Fees Act comes into effect, this charge is limited, by law, to £50 or to “reasonable costs incurred” for the variation. And these costs must be put in writing.
On the subject of cost, if you have a shared tenancy, you share liability for the whole rent. If someone cannot pay her rent, for whatever reason, you are equally liable for her portion. In the same way, the person named on the utility bills is liable for the whole bill. It’s important to establish a system for ensuring that all pay their fare share in a timely manner.
If the house or flat is home to five or more people, unless it’s in a big, purpose-built block, it should be licensed as a House in Multiple Occupation. A copy of the licence should be on display in the common parts (usually the hallway or kitchen). The licence, issued by your local council, will specify the maximum number of renters who can legally live there.
In some areas of London, all rental properties, not just houses in multiple occupation, require a licence. In other places, it’s all properties which are home to four or more people, rather than the legal minimum of five. You can check whether licensing applies to your address via the website of your local council. The quickest way to do this is an online search for the name of appropriate the London borough, followed by the words “landlord licensing”. If you think your address should be licensed but it isn’t. you should contact the council licensing team.
‘Bedrooms of London’
Today, some 700,000 of London’s children are living in poverty. The government defines relative poverty as a household ‘with below 60 per cent of contemporary median income’. Relative poverty generally means that you can’t afford an ‘ordinary living pattern’; you’re excluded from the activities and opportunities that the average person enjoys. Then, ‘absolute poverty’ as defined by the UN and others, means that you cannot afford the cost of life’s basics; food, clothing, shelter and so forth. But ‘relative poverty’ and not ‘absolute poverty’ is the measure used by the British government.
However it’s defined, we all know poverty when we see it. Bedrooms of London, the photo-documentary exhibition which opened at The Foundling Museum on 8th February, takes us inside the homes, and the lives, of Londoners in poverty. Focusing on children’s sleeping spaces, the photographs, by Katie Wilson, are accompanied by first-person narratives, collected by Isabella Walker.
Bedrooms of London is at The Foundling Museum, Brunswick Square, WC1N 1AZ, until 5 May 2019.
For more information call 020 7841 3600 or visit the Foundling Museum website