Everyone knows that London is in the middle of a housing crisis. The capital exists inside a bubble of insane rent, insane mortgages and insane train fares.
And as someone who is now a seasoned renter in London, it never fails to amaze me just how expensive it is to get anything. As friends in Sheffield, Leeds and Liverpool start to buy their own houses, I've grown used to wistfully looking in estate agents windows at £300,000 one-bedroom flats wondering if it's ever going to happen.
What I didn't account for, however, was how difficult it would be to even rent somewhere. After living this year alone in the World's Worst Flat which had rats in the ceiling, a Travelodge in Kings Cross and a very artistic if draughty East London sublet, I decided to get a proper place with an actual friend in a similar situation: just me and him, free from the awkward-kitchen-chats and passive-aggressiveness of a house share.
We set a seemingly attainable budget of £1,200, and set out to zone three to look for a place to live in zone. That place actually turned out to be zone five, but cost ‘only’ £600 each a month, which seemed attainable.
But then came the vetting – and I can't help but feel like I could have literally got a mortgage with less probing.
As typical 20-something London dwellers, me and my flatmate earn what would be a decent wage in most other places, but a starting wage in London. I also have no less than four (4) accounts attached to the current account, into which I transfer my entire wage into each month: one for savings, one for rent and my tube pass, one for money I can spend through the month, and lastly my daily account, in which I put an allowance. Try explaining all that to the landlord who is asking if you can manage money properly.
Then, seemingly because we are 20-somethings with lower salaries and endless bank accounts to try and save for a mortgage like you see all those other 20-somethings doing, the landlord decided he would ask us for a double deposit. For "security". The issue was that security for him took away a lot of security from us, by depleting our savings. We couldn't pull out, the landlords wouldn't accept further references, and it was the cheapest but most decent flat we'd seen. Also, if we said no to paying double the deposit – add in one month's rent in advance and agency fees, and the total came to over £2,000 per person – we'd have lost the £500 holding deposit. Great.
I contacted Shelter, sure that this couldn't be right. The housing charity told me that actually there are no regulations covering this sort of thing at all: landlords can choose to charge what they feel comfortable with.
I understand the landlord's need for security, but as two people who have never been late on rent, my flatmate-to-be and I were fairly miffed. This is all standard procedure; but it made life difficult and stressful when all we wanted was an affordable place to live.
It's not unreasonable to imagine that the eastern end of zone 5 would be far enough away from central London to find more reasonable prices. And we all know around £650 a month is an excellent deal for London. Yet the process itself felt stressful and precarious, and I'm not even living in the flat yet.
Could I move out of London? I had a look at the average rent in Doncaster, A Yorkshire town near to my hometown, served by the East Coast Main Line runs from. There are flats for £420, which seems an excellent deal it seems. The only hitch is a twelve-month rail pass would cost me £12,212.
So until we really start on that devolution hype, or start to regulate rent, it feels a lot like I and thousands of others will be stuck paying these ridiculous rental fees forever.