A Rant About Renting

Words: Benjamin Weare
Photos: Dani Bacon
Sunday 21 April 2024
reading time: min, words

While access to housing should be an undeniable human right for all, in 2024 buying a home is sadly beyond the realm of reason for many. For those left looking to rent, behind the scenes the process of finding a place comes with an increasing amount of red tape and bureaucracy… 


Late last year I was fresh out of my graduate degree and in need of a new place to live. I was keen to ditch my old Beeston flat, an echoey white box with very little natural light, in favour of something more cosy. I had never moved house while unemployed or during a housing crisis, but I was sure in a week or so I would be set up in a new place. It was closer to two months.

The first hurdle was that there didn’t seem to be many flats available, although plenty of rooms in shared houses. I found this true wherever I looked, with hints that it was not localised to Nottingham. This was highlighted when chatting to a landlord who remarked that it was a bad time for renting due to a low volume of ‘rental stock’ being available. His phrasing stuck out to me, as though living space arrived on pallets in the back of a truck. I guess it’s true in a coarse sense, shown by the new-builds near my Beeston flat that took deliveries of brick and timber from lorries to synthesise new living spaces. I’m not familiar with the specific alchemy by which raw materials are transmuted into homes, though I did notice by a quirk of the process at least two of the newly transfigured dwellings were already being advertised as rentals. I didn’t discover if these were build-to-rent properties, or if they were quickly snapped up by a landlord, and in any case I wasn’t able to arrange a viewing before they were let-agreed.

My biggest frustration as a prospective tenant was even getting to view flats. Adverts were left up after the property was gone, and usually if I didn’t call the estate agent on the day it was listed I was wasting my time. Most calls to estate agents would last less than a minute, consisting of a flat declaration that the property was already taken. Individually, not so bad, but en masse they started to wear down my resolve. I suspect many tenants are familiar with this particular attrition. The call that sticks out in my mind was when instead of hanging up I asked why flats went so quickly? They kindly informed me that in this case, the prospective tenant had arranged a viewing in-person at the estate agents offices before the online ad went up. Being first to view the property, they had rapidly turned around a successful application. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to compete with that, without finding the time to regularly tour the estate agents of Nottingham.

My turning point was mid-August, when I went from unemployed to salaried. I had been looking at jobs in other cities and had not been looking forward to engaging with the rental market in York or Ellesmere Port, so it was a relief to stay in Nottingham. I applied for a nice place during this week, then was rebuffed by the landlord as my contract had not yet come through. The estate agent offered me a compromise – was I willing to pay twelve months rent in advance? I didn’t pursue the flat. Perhaps yearly rent payments of several thousand pounds are common and I simply haven’t come across them, but it was remarked to me that I should have asked if the landlord pays their mortgage in yearly instalments. To me it felt like employment, as it affects tenancy application, is a binary. Until the moment a contract is signed I was liable as a risk, while afterwards I became a trustworthy tenant.

Perhaps yearly rent payments of several thousand pounds are common and I simply haven’t come across them, but it was remarked to me that I should have asked if the landlord pays their mortgage in yearly instalments.

Employment meant I was suddenly successful in tenancy applications. Perhaps the perception of guaranteed income soothed the minds of landlords. The next hurdle was that different estate agents ask for similar but different information during application, making it more frustrating to do several at once. For example I didn’t mind disclosing my salary (of which I had not been paid a penny), but some agents want net monthly salary and some want gross yearly salary. There’s also guarantors, which mitigate risk when taking on a tenant earning less than an arbitrary threshold. As a friend remarked, it’s a shame that this income threshold keeps lagging behind wages for people starting their careers. They will also often ask for three years housing history; I was fortunate to not have had a turbulent recent past, as there was no space in the process to explain the presence of lots of short tenancies that might be off-putting. In general I found that applications tended to flirt with being invasive, with high requirements for having a guaranteed income and stable living situation stacking the application against the tenant. From conversations this seems to be a national theme, not localised to Nottinghamshire.

After a successful application comes referencing. Many of the details required overlap, the dividing line depending on the estate agent. I expect many struggle to get this far, scuppered by lack of affordable properties and intense competition. In my case, referencing was handled by a deft chatbot. On the scale of cute to weird I rate this chatbot rather well, with occasional glitches that may have been bad luck. The big gremlin squatting on my keyboard was that the chatbot needed a phone number to contact my old landlord. He didn’t provide voice references so would not give me a number. That was entirely fair, but I couldn’t find a way to explain this to the bot. It just kept politely asking me for a number with a trusting smile on its digital face. In the end I had to give it a dud number, and the referencing service proceeded to contact my landlord via email anyway.

Eventually I was lucky enough to rent a flat in Nottingham. Abandoning my house search is a relief; my experience was of lost time and wasted emotional effort, full of small inconveniences that are each a grain of grit in the eye. I have no idea how I would have found the time to do this if I had been actively working, or raising a family, or suffered from disabilities. I was never at risk of homelessness, and I can’t imagine the suffering of having it hang over your head while attempting to navigate rental bureaucracy. The whole process felt actively hostile to unemployed people or those with a history of unstable housing, both across the UK and beyond. The difficulty I had in finding a flat made me feel like I was fighting invisibly against other renters, all competing for the luxury of a place to live.

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