03:27, July 03 42 0 theguardian.com

2018-07-03 03:27:10
Long tenancies won’t stop landlords wanting a CV, 12 months’ rent – or a date

Most cultures have traditional rites of passage, which mark a young person’s transition to adulthood. One example is the Hamar of Ethiopia, and their bull-jumping. Many young people on the verge of adulthood in the UK endure bullshit-wading in order to earn the “privilege” of renting a home. Westminster is “consulting” on three-year tenancies as standard, which is excellent. If tenants can stay longer, that is wonderful, but equally problematic is the frequently ludicrous, lengthening list of conditions that landlords impose before they bestow the gift of allowing renters to pay extortionate rents.

In the good old days, when knights were bold and children were happy with an orange for Christmas (that is, about 20 years ago) life for flat-hunters was simple. Find a flat; view it; decide you like it; maybe grab a quick landlord reference; pay one month rent in advance then another month as a deposit; and hey presto, in you move.

Nowadays pre-occupancy checks are like an episode of The Crystal Maze, so fiendishly complex and detailed is the ordeal by paper imposed. A friend was recently asked for his CV by a landlord. Did he face rejection because of a disappointing 2:2, or had he performed insufficient voluntary work? I am only half-joking, as many housing associations now insist that prospective tenants must demonstrate their benefit to the community. What if to pay the rent you have three jobs, leaving no time for charity work?

Tenants get no assurances from mysterious landlords, who could be dangerous criminals or serial bankrupts about to lose the property. Must landlords provide proof that they, too, have never paid a utility bill late? Of course not.

Certain landlords require 12 months’ rent up front, even three years’ worth of audited accounts, when precarious workers can’t afford upwards of £400 for an accountant. Character references for guarantors have been mandated, along with insisting that even “elderly” renters (ie those over 75), provide guarantors. Older tenants are increasingly reliant on the private sector, and unlikely to have parents or employers to ask (although with extended working lives, maybe that will change).

Oppressive requirements are especially egregious in a world of zero hours and student debt. Who among us has the pristine credit rating deemed essential by most landlords? Some demands are downright sinister, such as the landlord who asked to meet his female potential tenant for a drink “to see how they got along”. Who is good enough to rent now? Only modern saints such as David Attenborough, Mary Berry or that nice Clare Balding stand any chance of securing a tenancy. It’s only a matter of time before landlords insist upon: DNA tests; passwords to social media (already mooted in US border control, so don’t rule it out); rights to a kidney payable on demand; medical certificate signed by three doctors confirming the applicant is of sound mind and body (given the discrimination faced by those of us with disabilities, that’s not so far fetched); your first-born child (unworkable if only because many impecunious tenants delay having families); annual tribute in gold and an oath of obedience, like the Romans did with vassal kings.

The solution is a mass programme of genuinely affordable social housing, with rents at roughly one quarter of average incomes, as in the olden days. This would mean tenants could afford their rent, unlike the current situation where they struggle to pay, not because they buy avocados for all their friends but because rents are stratospheric.

If landlords persist in increasing rents, then tenants will inevitably default, no matter what hoops they have jumped through to secure a tenancy in the first place.

Penny Anderson is a writer and artist

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