14 Feb 2014

Generation rent: where can I afford to live?

With weekly rents soaring to more than half of average local wages in most of London, a generation of young renters has been left asking: “Where can I afford to live?”

The road to London has never been busier with young workers looking for a room of their own, writes Symeon Brown. Post recession, 80 per cent of private sector jobs have been created in London.

Today, a third of all young adults leaving UK cities make the well-worn pilgrimage to the capital.

Up against young workers born and raised in the city, and those migrating from abroad, competition for a single room is fierce – and estate agents know this.


An estate agent I spoke to told me his policy was to only do viewings with people who had no others booked with anyone else, could make a split decision on the spot, and had the full money for a deposit and estate agent fees immediately to hand.

Matt Hutchinson from spareroom.co.uk, a site connecting available rooms with flathunters, told us that they had seen demand for rooms dramatically outstrip the supply on their site.

Matt said: “Comparing 2014 to 2013, we saw a jump of 19 per cent in people looking for rooms, while those offering rooms rose by less than half a percent. It’s demand outstripping supply which causes high rents and makes it harder than ever for people to find somewhere affordable to live.”

The competition means renters have diminished bargaining power when looking for a new room, especially in a market saturated by buy-to-let landlords who own entire blocks – as in the case of 22-year-old Justine Taylor, who lives in a flatshare in Shadwell, east London.

Justine told us her landlord who owns her entire block of flats in addition to at least 80 other properties, had removed the heaters from her flat to keep the costs down.

Vital repairs

Housing advocacy group Tower Hamlets Renters is supporting Justine’s campaign to press them into making vital repairs. Justine said her neighbours had felt afraid to complain out of fear of having their tenancy cancelled.

Sian Green, 20, who works 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, said she felt rushed to make a decision and is now currently renting a bedroom in a flat with strangers, infested with cockroaches that she says her landlord is refusing to act on.

To make matters worse, Sian spends £700 of her £800 monthly pay packet on her rent.

Rosie Mackenzie said those new to London had to compromise due to the competition and speed in which properties were snapped up. Rosie had intended to live in a houseshare, but instead settled for a flatshare in which she lives on a mattress in the living room.

Rosie remained upbeat; she loves her location and unlike Sian and Justine has a landlord who is responsive and is “the best”. Rosie described trading some privacy for marginally cheaper rent as “part of being young and trying to make the most of life”.

However it is increasingly likely that renting flatshares, often with strangers, is not temporary but a defining trend for my generation even into our thirties.

Property guardianships

Some can achieve low rents by other means. Property guardianships are where industrial and residential property try to prevent intruders by leasing their property to a security company who secure it by putting in live-in sitters – working professionals – known as guardians, who pay low rents to live there.

But without the legal rights of tenants, guardians have little power or security – they can be asked to leave within two weeks and furthermore the properties provided are not always fit for purpose and would take significant money to clean up.

All the trends point to a difficult future with rising rents, rising house prices, diminishing space and insecure tenure being on the cards for the generation promised that working hard would be enough. We are now set to become the first post-war generation to do worse than our parents.