Struggling tenants tell of frustration and despair

Many renters living in Bristol are struggling with “frustration and despair” according to a landmark new report on the city’s housing crisis. 

Hundreds of renters gave their experiences of rising costs and shoddy conditions to experts on the Bristol Living Rent Commission.

A survey carried out by the commission painted a “grim” picture of the pain facing thousands of Bristolians renting privately. The 720 responses showed many are struggling to keep up with rising rents, while putting up with a lack of repairs and a looming threat of eviction.

The Living Rent Commission and Bristol City Council are now calling on the government for new legal powers to control rents and cap how much landlords can increase them. But the commission’s 104-page report also revealed the real-life impacts of the city’s housing crisis.

The report said: “A quarter of the comments referred to feeling powerless or a lack of security. Searching for or keeping accommodation creates a lack of security and raises anxiety levels. The testimonies convey a sense of urgency, frustration and sometimes despair among tenants. The most prominent concern is the significant increases in rent.”

Over half of survey respondents said they had issues with repairs and maintenance, and poor communication from their landlord. Repair issues most commonly reported are damp, mould and plumbing problems. But landlords can be unwilling to get these issues fixed, leaving some tenants suffering severe consequences from the lack of any prompt action.

Another issue is rent bidding, where landlords or letting agents ask prospective tenants to bid higher than the advertised rent. Over a quarter of respondents taking on a new tenancy in the last year said they had been asked to take part in so-called “bidding wars”.

Only three quarters of respondents were confident their deposits had been paid into a third-party protection scheme, despite landlords being legally required to do so. One in 10 said their deposit had not been paid into a protection scheme, while 13% said they didn’t know.

Some renters said it was “impossible” to start a family, while others who were parents said they lived in “constant fear of being made homeless”, due to the difficulty of finding places to rent that will accept children. People with pets can also struggle to find places.

One tenant said: “It’s impossible for a couple to find and afford a suitable flat for themselves to safely raise a family in. This is deeply distressing and has a huge impact on people’s mental health.”

Landlords are legally allowed to evict tenants without giving a specific reason. This lack of tenure security means many renters have to move frequently and not out of choice. The government however is scrapping Section 21 no-fault evictions, with the Renters Reform Bill going through parliament, although campaigners say the changes do not go far enough.

According to the survey, the most frequent reason given for eviction is when landlords are planning to sell the property. Other reasons include a landlord or family member moving into the property, refurbishment plans, or the landlord planning to find new tenants and charge them a higher rent.

A common fear among tenants is that if they ask for repairs, their landlord could retaliate and threaten to evict them. The commission found a growing shortfall in properties to rent, and an expanding mismatch between decreasing supply of homes to rent and increasing demand. The supply of homes is going down as some landlords say new rules and taxes are making it less attractive to rent out their properties on a long-term basis, so some are choosing to sell their properties or let them on a short-term basis instead on AirBnB.

By Alex Seabrook, Local Democracy Reporting Service