The Nightmare of Renting in London Getting Worse

Bidding wars take place for bedrooms as landlord hike rents

Jess Espin and Max Willson had bad experiences trying to find a place to live

The experience of renting in London has hit new lows as tenants fight bidding wars for bedrooms, pay as much as £54,000 upfront to secure homes and face evictions by landlords hiking rent. Tenants say they’re facing “outrageous” price hikes as they battle to find homes in the city.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service spoke to tenants who fear soaring costs for rent, bills and food could price them out of the capital for good. Campaigners also say there aren’t enough homes being built in London to meet demand.

Graduate Alice Preece, 22, said she’s been struggling to find somewhere to live with four friends in north and east London as agents are asking for “outrageous amounts”.

She added, “The few properties we have been able to see have all gone for outrageous amounts over the asking price. We’re all stretching as much as possible to bid above asking price, but the people who win these bidding wars are those willing to pay an extra £600 per month.

“We’re including paying rent upfront as part of offers but so is everybody else. There doesn’t seem to be a way to win for most graduates on starter salaries. There’s no way to compete. There aren’t any properties left with low asking prices for your standard graduate’s budget.”

Alice, who works in PR, said she had been calling up to 20 estate agents a day to try and secure somewhere to live, but that she was close to giving up. She said it’s also a battle trying to secure a viewing when a suitable property crops up.

She added, “It’s a minefield. Getting a foot in the door is virtually impossible when a place that goes up on Rightmove an hour ago already has 30 people on a waitlist for viewings. It’s massively impacting my mental health.

“It’s putting strains on my friendships and I’m starting to accept that living in London just isn’t something me and my friends can afford to do. Coupled with bills rising in October and January I don’t see how any of us would be able to afford rent, bills and food.”

Recent graduate Alice Preece struggling to find affordable accommodation
Recent graduate Alice Preece struggling to find affordable accommodation

Despite spiralling cost of living pressures, wages are not increasing at the same rate. Pay excluding bonuses was down 2.8 per cent between March and May when compared to a year earlier and adjusted for inflation, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics. This is the fastest drop since records began while inflation is at a 40-year high.

Many other renters say they are struggling to secure homes as landlords and agents ask for huge sums of money upfront. Emily Atherton said she missed out on a property in Highbury after someone offered £54,000 to snap it up.

She tweeted, “It had 25 people coming in one day and was on for £3k a month. The person who got it paid 18 months’ rent upfront and I was asked if we could counteroffer. That’s £54k upfront.”

Kilburn resident Charlie Hullah said he worries that he could be priced out of London after his rent was recently increased by “hundreds of pounds”. The 29-year-old creative said, “I’ve been really lucky to have been a guardian in a flat for a number of years but the guardian industry has changed a lot and feels almost at private rent levels.”

He added: “Our rents were increased by hundreds of pounds recently and we’re all scrambling to find alternative ways of living which don’t appear to be possible now. I have had to accept this week that I cannot afford to rent privately in London – even as a guardian – unless I am a property guardian and move outside of the capital. So many of my neighbours have left London and I think I’ll have to do the same.

“Guardianship used to be affordable due to the risks and highly insecure license agreements but they are up there with market rates now.”

Charley also said the demand for properties seems to have drastically risen. He said, “I went to a virtual viewing on Zoom last week with a property guardian company that was mostly made up of people who’ve not done it before – 35 people in total. It’s always been crazy but this feels like a tipping point for sure.”

Freddie Poser, director of PricedOut, a campaign for affordable housing in England, said more homes need to be built in England for all budgets. He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “We absolutely are hearing anecdotes of massive rent increases, with one couple being told, ‘I don’t know how much I’m putting the rent up by, I just know you can’t afford it’.

“The key to making housing more accessible, in the medium and long term, is an increase in supply. This means more social, affordable and market rate homes. The key barrier to the provision of this is the planning system – this needs to be loosened to allow for more homes.”

Renters turned down for ‘not writing cover letters’

Max Willson, 27, said the rent market in London is currently “dire” as hundreds of bidders compete with each other for rooms. The market research manager said he’s moving from to Oval after living with persistent issues with mice and bugs at his previous home in Finsbury Park.

He said: “The situation has been dire and incredibly stressful over the last few weeks. I started out on SpareRoom but it became an audition of personality and there were hundreds of people going to rooms that were a reasonable price.

“I then buddied up with two chaps and we started looking for three-bed places. It became obvious quite quickly that people put bids on places they didn’t view and did bids that were £200-300 over asking price.

“Sometimes we were rejected for ridiculous reasons like not living together or not writing a cover letter for our application. Because everyone seems to be panicking… it’s like all sense has left us and we are bidding on tiny rooms and grotty flats that are not worth four-figure rents. It’s enhanced and capitalised on for sure by landlords and letting agents.”

Max said he finally managed to find a flat but feels he’s paying too much for the quality of the property. He added: “I am less than happy paying the amount of money I do to someone who owns dozens of properties across the capital and who is presumably helping to perpetuate this whole problem.”

Jessica Espin, 29, also said she struggled to book viewings and compete with bidders offering huge fees upfront. She said: “Estate agents weren’t even bothering to call us back or email us when we enquired about properties because they were going so quickly. We were turning up for viewings and there were eight people viewing places at the same time.

“We had to put offers in on the day of viewing to even stand a chance but everywhere people were offering way above asking price and then some offering six months upfront. My landlord hiked rent by £700′

Jessica, who works as a campaign executive, said she had to move after being priced out from her current home in West London. She added: “Our landlord has increased the rent by £700… I think increasing it that much is criminal.

“We finally managed to find somewhere but it took us about 3 months in the end. One property we looked around was so bad [there was] no double glazing… the stairs were broken and had holes in… it had electric heaters not gas radiators, and it was damp. They were charging £1,200 a month for that.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is calling for the government to freeze rent prices in a bid to save Londoners nearly £3,000 over two years. He said in a previous statement: “Private renters make up nearly a third of everyone living in the capital and they are set to be hit by a devastating combination of price and bill rises. Too often the needs of private renters are ignored by both landlords and the government.”

Housing charity Shelter has also warned evictions are back at pre-pandemic levels and private renters struggling to make ends meet. Research by the charity found 64 per cent of private renters said they’d struggle with the cost of moving if they were evicted.
Shelter’s chief executive Polly Neate said in a statement: “Today’s figures paint a grim picture of households across England unable to keep their heads above water as the cost-of-living crisis bites. People who don’t leave their home before the bailiff comes are the ones who have run out of options and have nowhere else to go.

“Every day our emergency helpline supports people having to make impossible choices between putting food on the table or paying their rent. Housing costs are people’s biggest outgoing and those who have nothing left to cut back will soon be left with nowhere to call home.

“The government must urgently unfreeze housing benefit so it covers the true cost of renting before more families are evicted and pushed into homelessness. Whoever becomes the next Prime Minister needs to get a grip and put ending the housing emergency at the top of their to-do list.”

Hannah Neary - Local Democracy Reporter

August 30, 2022