I reviewed The Rent Trap by Rosie Walker and Samir Jeraj for the May 27th edition of the Times Literary Supplement
Rosie Walker and Samir Jeraj
The Rent Trap: how we fell into it and how we get out of it
Rosie Walker and Samir Jeraj’s survey of the situation for those who rent their homes from private landlords aims to rally tenants to seek change. Stories of households at the sharp end of high rents, poorly maintained homes, thuggish landlords and predatory estate agents are backed up by statistics, history and law to paint a picture of a failing sector.
Although many tenants have good experiences of renting, the authors show that this is a result of landlords choosing to behave well rather than being obliged to do so. When things go wrong tenants have little recourse – because they can be evicted with only two months’ notice, complaining about repairs or objecting to rent increases is risky. Even when privately rented housing is well-managed in the UK, the absence of rent controls leave tenants in areas of high demand paying out very large proportions of their income, and fuels inequality as those who own assets extract wealth from those who don’t, making it ever less likely that they can afford to buy a home of their own.
The authors don’t dig into the one area where tenants do have the upper hand – if they refuse to leave at the end of their notice period, landlords are obliged to get a court order to send bailiffs to remove them, a process which can easily take six months. This is the case even if tenants have ceased to pay rent, or broken other rules. By failing to address this, the authors neglect an issue that many landlords resent, and leave tenants ignorant of one source of power they do have. Nor do Walker and Jeraj consider wider options for bringing the housing situation under control such as a land value tax.
The Rent Trap makes a compelling case – if incomplete – case for reform, but it does not set out clear proposals for change. Tenants reading this book are likely to reach the end feeling hard done by, but not very clear on what they could do to improve things.