Embarrassing first dates, fashion disasters and terrifying French teachers are things most of us have lived through in our youth. Just as the 1980s comedy The Young Ones typified slum-dwelling students, most Brits see poor housing as a rite of passage.
Sadly, nightmare landlords are all too common in Britain for renters of all ages. Scarcely a week goes by without a rental horror story hitting the headlines. And for anyone who’s ventured to Berlin, New York or any other cities comparable with London, the amazement that it doesn’t have to be this way is hard to ignore.
From refusing to fix a leaky tap to running off with your deposit, many in Britain have experienced some kind of shocking experience.
This is because housing has – wrongly – long been seen as a good and not a service. The buy-to-let boom created a generation of investors who saw a second or third property as an alternative pension, not a home where people live. Unlike taking a flight to America or staying in hotel, you often have little choice.
You can’t vote with your feet if you don’t like the fact your boiler has been dead for a week, because the law doesn’t let you and then you’d be homeless.
In fairness, most landlords are good people. Unfortunately, the vast majority are not professional. Many are absent – living abroad – and unable to respond quickly.
Few landlords have residential management experience, and instead rely on agents who have no commercial imperative to keep tenants happy because they make money from recycling tenancies as quickly as possible. No wonder no service culture exists in the UK rental market.
Thankfully, this is starting to change. As changes in lifestyle and work drive up the number of renters, a new breed of professional landlord is entering the UK, bringing with them a model of renting that is common in North America and Europe – but not yet in Britain.
The Government is also cracking down on dodgy practice, starting with a ban on lettings fees that we vehemently supported.
Society has woken up to the fact that private renters make up the fastest growing chunk of the housing market and they need a bit of support. Why should people have to waste their time arguing to get hot water fixed or to remove damp caused by underinvestment and neglect?
Thankfully, there is another way.
An era of branded living is upon us, influenced by boutique hotels, tech start-ups and student accommodation that replaces hassle with customer service and uncertainty with predictable prices and guaranteed tenancies. Thousands of new homes designed exclusively for rent are now coming out of the ground in places as diverse as London and Maidenhead.
Because they’re managed by a single owner, there’s no horsing around trying to contact a landlord in a foreign country and no disputes over putting stuff on the wall. In Vantage Point, our scheme in Islington, we’ll send a handy man to help put your TV up for you.
This new world of renting is referred to by the media as “build to rent” because the companies actually build the apartments. They design them for renters who want a hassle-free existence. People have replaced owning a car with Uber, exchanged their CDs for Spotify and swapped their DVDs for Netflix.
While those suffering on overcrowded trains sadly have little choice, pretty soon, everyone suffering a nightmare landlord will be able to vote with their feet.
What are your nightmare landlord experiences? What would you like to see from future landlords?