Average UK rents have fallen for the first time in six years, fresh data shows.
The slowdown in the rental sector reflects a sluggish sales market, in which property prices are falling.
The average monthly rent on a new tenancy that started in the first quarter of the year was £772 a month, which was down 0.54% on the last quarter of 2017, according to the latest rent index from the Deposit Protection Service (DPS)
The tenancy deposit protection scheme says that if the existing downward trend is maintained in Q2 2018, the UK will almost certainly experience its first annual rental decrease since Q4 2009.
Northern Ireland experienced the biggest percentage fall of any UK region at 3.14%, from £544 a month to £527 a month, replacing the North East as the most affordable UK region in which to rent property.
Julian Foster, managing director at The DPS, said: “The decrease in average rents across the UK could represent the beginning of a substantial development for the housing sector and a significant indicator for understanding the wider economy.
“Rent growth began to slow in summer 2016, and the slip into negative figures suggests that there is a genuine long-term issue affecting the private rented sector.
“The UK-wide decrease implies that there is more at play than a short-term or local correction to excessive prices, and a similar reduction in Q2 could represent the first annual decrease in rents since 2009.”