Life

I Became a Landlord in My Twenties – and It Was Hell

One-third of millennials will never own a home. How does it feel to be one of the lucky ones?
28 February 2020, 9:00am
landlord in twenties
Photo: VICE Staff

When Mark graduated from university, he made a financial decision.

He figured he'd live at home for a few years while working, and save up enough money so that he and his brother could buy a flat together. Problem was, they could only afford somewhere in a less-than-desirable area of London – somewhere they were not prepared to live. So the plan had to change: instead, they bought the place and rented it out, making Mark a 24-year-old landlord.

"It was pretty stressful for someone who was 24 years old," says Mark over the phone. Stressful, maybe, but not without its benefits: "Well, you know... I made a lot of profit. I made 60 or 70k when it came to [selling it], which was a huge amount of money."

What do you see when you picture a landlord? Most likely: grey-haired boomers expanding their pension pot from their pile in Provence; seedy, middle-aged men trying to rinse every last penny out of you; or faceless managing agents in cheap suits. But what about the young people – people who look just like you and I – who are making a living off being a landlord? When over half the wealth of the housing market is owned by over-65s, and one-third of millennials will never own a home, being a young landlord of a property you don't even live in is an unusual – and vilified – occupation.

For Mark, even though the housing market was slightly less extortionate at the time he purchased a flat, it was an unusual situation to be in. "It sounded very strange [to friends]," he explains. "People were either living at home or living in flatshares or renting somewhere."

I ask Mark if he ever feels guilty. "I'm privileged in many different ways," he says. "I didn't come from a broken home, my parents loved me, I went to a decent school... and that's what led me to buy the flat when I did."

"I don't think [being a landlord] should be a vilified role," he continues. "If I didn't have that flat for someone, then the person who rented it from me wouldn't have somewhere to live. Nobody gave me that money – I went to work and I earned it. So no, I don't feel guilty."

But not everyone feels so guilt-free. When homeownership among young people is so rare – and many who are able to buy property are only able to do so with help from their parents – some who become landlords young have complicated feelings on the subject.

"My mother just gave me and my siblings a share in a flat that we're going to be renting out," says Simon*. "I feel gross about it. Some stranger will be paying a lot of money to live there."

None of the siblings will be living in the flat. "The idea is that we can sell it in due course," Simon continues, "and have a bit of money for a deposit." This doesn’t sit well with Simon, who feels that collectively owned flats with rent control would be "the best system".

"I feel like being a landlord is kind of immoral – [it's] money for nothing," he says. "Either someone else paying to purchase your property for you, or just paying you because you own a property and they need somewhere to live."

As a result, Simon doesn't publicise his property situation. "I once started making fun of someone for being a property owner, capitalist, etc, and then I realised I was one too," he says. "That was more funny than awkward."

While there can be benefits to being a landlord, such as making a ton of money, it's not the easiest responsibility to handle when you're young. Greggory Davis, who's 28, became a landlord to not one but four properties in Yorkshire when he was in his twenties. Rather than being an easy money-spinner, it came with its own issues.

"When I was 17, my mum passed away and left me a family home," he tells me over the phone. "We lived in Surrey, and my parents were relatively wealthy, so it was, like, a fair sum of money."

Originally, Greggory bought a flat in London, but this proved too expensive so he ended up buying four properties in Yorkshire – where he found his money could go furthest. It didn't go quite to plan: "The tenants damaged them, ran out after months of not paying, agents have ripped me off [and] we have about four ongoing court cases and a police investigation."

"It's been a lot of drama [and] sleepless nights," he continues. "Being a landlord is very difficult and very time-consuming."

No matter how much of a struggle it might be to be young and manage a property, it's hard for many to not resent landlords. The housing crisis is one of the biggest catalysts of inequality in the UK – where the rich are able to buy their kids houses, while everyone else remains trapped in a cycle of insecure renting, which can affect their mental health, relationships or even job progression. The individual isn't necessarily to blame – introductions of rent controls or governments building more social housing could help – but it doesn't stop landlords being seen as the embodiment of that inequality.

Although it's unusual to be a young landlord, Greggory doesn't feel bad about it. "It's a rather odd situation to be," he says, "and I guess you have financial security when a lot of people don't."

But even with its benefits, he says, becoming a landlord in his twenties wasn't worth the struggle: "It was an absolute nightmare. I'd never do it again."

@RubyJLL