Life For Rent is a housing advice column from VICE. Housing journalist and campaigner Vicky Spratt is here to answer your questions about dodgy landlords, evil estate agents and terrible flatmates. Got a burning query? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
– 1) Hi! We've been in our rented house for a year now, and surprise, surprise, the letting agents have told us the landlord would like to increase the rent if we want to stay another year (with no explanation why). Is it possible for us to negotiate this down or even refuse the increase? We don't massively want to move, making our position a little weak, but it would be great to know if there are any good arguments to try to limit the damage. Love, another victim of the renting crisis.
Few things in life are certain, except death, taxes and rent hikes. But that last one makes little sense. As a tenant, you're paying off someone else's mortgage. Unless your landlord is a charity, it's very unlikely they're charging you the bare minimum and just about covering their costs, meaning they're probably making a profit each month.
Why, then, should your rent go up? I once lived in a flat owned by my friend's dad. After my first year, he told me he was increasing my rent by £100 a month. What metric that was in line with I still couldn't tell you. I knew he didn't even have a mortgage. Years later, I didn't go to her wedding because I couldn't face him.
On that subject: back to your question. You want to know what can you do about this proposed increase.
First things first, know this: your landlord can't just increase the rent whenever they fancy it, or by any amount. They need to follow certain rules and give you notice in writing if they want you to pay more – but this depends on the type of tenancy you have. So check your contract. Shelter have a great tool for this on their website.
If you're on a standard one-year assured shorthold tenancy (AST) and this increase is coming with the renewal, it may all be above board. But, nonetheless, the best thing you can possibly do is speak to your landlord. I know it sounds obvious, but sometimes the most sensible solutions are right in front of us.
Ask why they're putting the rent up. Implore them not to. List all of the reasons why you've been a great tenant, explain how much you love living in the flat, that you're in it for the long haul. If they won't agree to keep your rent the same, try to negotiate a less substantial increase.
I know it doesn't feel like it, because we're talking about your home, your sanctuary, but landlords see their properties as assets. To them, it's a business, and in my experience they get a weird kick out of negotiating – and often actually expect you to do it. Think of it like Depop. You don't list your old trainers at a price you genuinely believe they’re worth, do you? So go for it; you have nothing to lose by bartering, and everything to gain.
– 2) I have a question in regards to my rental contract. When I rented the flat it was just me and my boyfriend; now, we have a baby on the way. Is this reason for them to kick us out? I just want to know if they can do that once they realise the little man is on the way.
Oh, love. Congratulations. How amazing. I'm all at once so pleased for you and so sorry that you're even having to ask me this question. Given everything you've got going on right now – the business of the human being growing inside you, but also the endless life admin that comes with getting ready for the brilliant chaos on the horizon – your landlord is the last thing you want to be worrying about.
Sadly, you're right to fret. I wish I could tell you otherwise. For the last year-and-a-bit I've been travelling around the country, listening to people's housing stories, and I've heard a lot of shocking things. Things that belong in a Dickens novel, certainly not in reality in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
One of those things is that landlords do not want to rent to women with babies, and that they evict women when they get pregnant. I heard it when I was in Birmingham, I heard it when I was in Bradford and I heard it happened to a single mum in Bristol. Lettings agents have told me, off the record, that the reason for this is that standards are expected to be higher when a baby is living at a property, and some landlords don't want that responsibility.
Patriarchy. Check. Sexism. Check. Frustration. Check. But more to the point: legally, this is, of course, discrimination. As Citizen's Advice point out, as a tenant with an assured contract (as I mentioned above) you have rights and you can enforce them. One of these is that you have the right to stay in your home as long as you keep to the terms of your tenancy agreement, and to not be treated unfairly because of your disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation.
That's all well and good, but the problem that you and millions of renters up and down this country face right now is that it's still incredibly easy for a landlord to evict their tenant. They hold all of the power because of a particularly pernicious piece of legislation, Section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act, entitles landlords to evict their tenants at any time without even having to give them a reason. We know this has led to thousands of revenge evictions, where a landlord decides to kick their tenants out because they've asked for repairs.
Until the status quo changes – until the long-awaited ban on Section 21 actually happens, until our politicians realise that renters are paying to live in homes which they have no control over – your situation is precarious.
I know that's not helpful. I know your stomach is lurching as you read this, but it's important to face facts. You need to tread carefully, because your home is the centre of your world right now.
You have two choices, and I'm afraid they each carry risk. You're not legally obliged to tell your landlord that you're pregnant, so you could just say nothing. However, it's likely they'll want to inspect the property at some point, and find out in the process, so I wouldn't deliberately conceal it. As much as we like to make landlords the bogeymen of the housing crisis, your relationship with yours is crucial for the security of your home – so you need it to be good.
Instead of saying nothing, you could (and perhaps should) send them a quick email to let them know, out of courtesy. As we've established, they could have a heart made of stone, causing them to have a problem with a newborn baby living in their property. But let's give your landlord the benefit of the doubt. What if they're one of the good guys?
In life, we spend so much time worrying about things we cannot control. Your landlord is one of them. Sometimes, there's relief in admitting that you don’t have control over much. That, no matter what, the universe could always blindside you. Know your rights, but also know that you'll be OK, whatever happens.