Back in March, the government promised that no one would lose their home due to coronavirus, announcing emergency legislation that suspended evictions from all rented accommodation during the crisis. This eviction “ban” is set to end later this month, but with the economic impact of the pandemic far from over, housing charity Shelter warns that an estimated 227,000 renters could risk losing their homes.
Mia* is a 30-year-old yoga teacher who has lived in London for the last ten years. After her work significantly decreased due to coronavirus, she couldn’t afford to pay rent. Here, she tells Ruby Lott-Lavigna what she plans to do when the eviction ban lifts.
I was absolutely fine in March before all of this started. I'm a yoga teacher and my boyfriend is a musician and we live in a one-bed flat in a former council house. We always pay the rent on time. We were just starting to get sick of renting and were planning to move onto a boat, which I'm glad we didn't do.
When everything started changing, I was getting calls from every yoga studio that I worked at, and within a week I went from a full timetable to nothing. I'm also newly self-employed, so I used to work full-time and became freelance in October, which turned out to be bad timing as it meant that I didn't get furloughed, and I didn't get a grant because I didn't have any tax reports.
At the start, we didn't really mind about the virus. We were just like, “What are we going to do about the rent?” That was massive panic. I've never really felt anything like that in terms of stress. It was like I could feel it pouring out of my pores. I spent most of my time in the bath. I just kept submerging myself underwater and trying to make it go away.
So, we spoke to our landlord a couple of days before the rent was due and said, “We pretty much use all of our money on rent in normal times, and now that's been cut off and there are no savings for us to dip into, that's it, we don't have anything. Now everything is going into lockdown, do you want to do a mortgage holiday and pass that onto us? Can you maybe reduce the rent a little bit?” Our rent is £1,250 a month and the landlord was like, “No way”.
Then she said, “If you're not going to pay the rent, we're going to have to get someone in who can”.
It was like someone had given us an unplayable game. We just don't have the money, nowhere is open for us to earn any money, so it's like, “Oh God, we can't actually do anything”. If we could have done something, we would have been running around like crazy people trying to earn some money, but we couldn't do anything – there was nothing to do. That was kind of relaxing, in a way.
I dislike the whole concept of landlords and how our generation has hugely been taken advantage of. For now, we’ve refused to pay any money at all – we've gone on a rent strike. It isn't just about this, it's about the whole set-up. I've just found it so distasteful that these houses were set up as social houses and now they're being used to exploit people after being bought for peanuts by the baby boomers. It's just impossible to have any foundation because you give all your money to someone else.
So, we didn't pay our landlord. She just ignored that, then said that she would contact Universal Credit to get them to redirect our payments to her, which landlords can do. Our Universal Credit payments are now sent to her, which are always under the rent.
She didn't communicate with us for a couple of months, which were two really nice months! Then, a week or so ago, she sent us an eviction notice. We have until October until we are evicted. My boyfriend is not earning anything at the moment. I'm earning about 60 percent less than I was before, but I'm building that up. Essentially, we won't have a reference, we don't really have any money and we don't have anywhere else to go. We have parents but we can't live with them.
So, we're moving to Berlin. This country is so hostile for people who rent, yet they love people who rent because it keeps everyone else nice and wealthy. It's just a maddening situation. We just don't want to be here anymore. We've got until the end of December to get to Germany on the same terms we had when we were part of the EU. We're halfway to setting that up.
I feel excited about starting again and getting out of this country. I feel pretty good about it. But I also accept that it doesn't feel very stable. There isn't a clear setup. I'm just trying to be optimistic because I have to be. There isn't really another option.
*Name has been changed.