The significant majority of private renters are happy with their properties, status and their landlords according to a new survey.
A report from a cross-party independent think tank, the Social Market Foundation, says that – contrary to some narratives suggest renting is an inherently unhappy experience – no fewer than 81 per cent of tenants say they are happy with their current home and 85 per cent are satisfied with their landlords.
The greatest single source of dissatisfaction among tenants is with “being a renter” although even here this applies to only 34 per cent - the majority are happy with their status as a tenant. The SMF says this suggests that where people are unhappy in the private rented sector it is not about their living circumstances, but about the fact of having to rent rather than own a home.
Satisfaction with private renting is particularly high among older renters: nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) of those aged 55 and over report being satisfied, compared to 58 per cent of those aged 35-54.
Private renters particularly value not having to pay for repairs, maintenance or insurance and other costs, with over two-thirds citing this as a benefit of renting; some also see it as a way to afford more expensive locations or to live more flexibly.
However, the disadvantages of renting were named as being a financially worse option than ownership in the long run, being unable to make decisions over furnishing and décor, to improve energy efficiency, or to keep a pet.
A key finding in the report reads: “Despite the political focus on security and stability, this came lower down the list of concerns in our survey: four in 10 private renters said that they dislike the uncertainty of being on a fixed contract, rising to 45 per cent of parents. Overall, most renters are happy to be where they are for now, but most do not see it as their ideal long-term option.”
However, even with the strong endorsement of rental properties and landlords contained in the report, the SMF says major policy changes are needed to ensure the sector continues to work well for tenants.
Only half of renters expect to leave the private rented sector in the next 15 years, suggesting that significant numbers will remain renters for long periods. Among them, the SMF finds that just 13 per cent would be satisfied with long-term renting.
That will see the average age of tenants rising: by 2035, more than half of private renting households are likely to include someone aged 45 or older, the SMF forecasts.
Couples and families will also make up a rising proportion of renters
The SMF says its research challenges the narratives which assume private renting is unsatisfactory and exploitative for the typical tenant.
At the same time, it acknowledges that a minority of renters have particularly negative experiences and so endorses measures expected to be in the Rental Reform White Paper - due in the near future - such as abolition of Section 21 evictions and introduction of a Decent Homes standard for private rental properties similar to that in existence for social renting.
The SMF’s key recommendation is to enable renters to build wealth while remaining in the private rental sector, addressing their number one concern: the financial opportunity cost of renting, which have prevented savings, for a deposit or later life needs.
Several innovative schemes could be implemented, including ‘deposit builder ISAs’ that offer a financial return on deposits, or ‘rentership’ models that offer tenants stakes in their building.
One of the Social Market Foundation’s report authors - economist Aveek Bhattacharya - says: “Dominant cultural narratives about the private rented sector paint a misleading picture. In contrast to the horror stories that get wide circulation, the majority of renters are satisfied with their living conditions and have decent relationships with their landlords.
“It is absolutely right that the government should seek to help the minority with poor standard accommodation and unprofessional landlords. At the same time, it needs to think harder about what it can offer the typical renter – who is largely happy with their circumstances today, but has doubts about whether they want to keep renting long-term.”
He continues: "Giving renters more control over their homes – allowing them to keep pets or decorate would help. So would incentivizing landlords to make improvements to properties to make them good, and not just decent. But perhaps the biggest challenge is developing policies that can persuade renters that they are not missing out financial security and stability if they don’t own their home.”
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