The call came on a Saturday morning last month. I always knew it would. It had been lurking in the background as I tried to carry on, make plans. I knew that it would all end, swiftly. Not with a whimper but with a bang.
I’d been told there was a viewing planned at the cottage I’ve rented since 2018. It’s been up for sale since April. I learned it was going to be put on the market in February, when the landlady turned up with little warning, an estate agent in tow.
The agent started taking photographs of every room and my courtyard garden. Without asking first. Or even talking to me. Because who am I, other than a lowly private renter, unworthy of even a kindly ‘Good morning’.
The viewing was scheduled for 11.30 am (there had been a few). I walked my dogs early, then raced up a steep hill to make sure I was back in time to tidy.
At 11.45, my mobile rang. It was the landlady. ‘The viewing is cancelled but there is another one at half past one.’
I dared to express my dismay, my upset at the constant intrusions. Yet another no-show; another day when I was unable to do as I pleased.
Liz Jones, 64, (pictured) opens up about being given two months’ notice to leave her rented cottage
‘Right!’ the landlady snapped. ‘I’m serving you with a Section 21. You have two months’ notice to move out as of Monday.’ I crumpled. Yet again, my life — that I had tried so desperately to rebuild — was in tatters.
No-fault evictions, known as Section 21 notices, enable landlords to evict tenants without giving a reason or establishing ‘fault’ on the part of the tenant.
No matter how long you’ve lived there (for me, four years) or how much you’ve spent on the place (in my case £59,000 — I cashed in my pension and got a loan to pay for everything from a new kitchen to underfloor heating, new bathroom and white goods) you can be summarily dismissed.
How is this allowed? We are protected at work if we are sick or lose our jobs, but when we rent a home — and surely a home is integral to our health, productivity and sense of belonging — we can be thrown to the sharks.
Surely, there is more to being a landlord than having me pay your mortgage when I have paid the rent on time and looked after your property?
A lifeline was dangled in front of our poor, cold noses last month when Michael Gove — since appointed Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities under Rishi Sunak — voiced his support for Boris Johnson’s commitment to ending no-fault evictions.
Mr Gove knows as well as anyone that it isn’t the workshy who end up renting. After all, divorce is a common factor. The Government won’t get growth from a workforce that wonders if getting out of bed is worth the bother.
His speech was music to the ears of the more than four million private renters in the UK.
The misery, the uncertainty. Goodness only knows how families with school-age children cope with the disruption, the endless reading of meters and changing of suppliers, the redirection of post, the changing of council tax and on and on and on … It’s all so unbelievably stressful.
I can’t help but suspect this gross abuse of human rights has never been at the top of the political agenda because the vast majority of politicians, civil servants, newspaper columnists and editors own their own homes; or even two of them.
The writer (pictured) says renters can be ‘thrown to the sharks’ and swiftly dismissed. Liz says she has rented nine properties in her adult life, and has been evicted four times
The problem doesn’t enter their brains and, if it does, they assume people who rent are either feckless or the very young, who will soon claw their way on to the property ladder. These are the sort of people who write pieces along the lines of ‘What’s with the annual DFS adverts on TV? Why do people buy a new sofa every Christmas? I inherited mine!’ (That was an actual column.)
I have rented nine properties in my adult life and been evicted four times — and the older you get, the harder it is to bounce back.
Times are bad for Generation Rent — the poor 20 and 30-somethings who are unable to scrape together a deposit, or afford a mortgage. But to be in your 60s and to be renting, as I am, after a lifetime of hard work, is infinitely worse.
Why? Because, at 64, I am perilously close to retirement.
I did manage to get a mortgage offer before the current crisis but, even then, the rate I was offered was nearly 5 per cent and the maximum term I was allowed was 12 years. There is no hope of a partner on the horizon to split bills with.
I have sympathy for homeowners whose rates have just gone up, but renters aren’t immune, as there are no caps on what we pay. Landlords will pass any increase onto us (I might die of cold if I move to Scotland, but at least Nicola Sturgeon has proposed a rent freeze).
Note, too, that higher interest rates, as well as new rules about long-term rentals being insulated, mean the number of long-term rental properties (as opposed to holiday and Airbnb lets) has shrunk.
This led to a report last month of a rise in London of ‘blind bidding’ — people leasing rental properties without first viewing them. There are 49 per cent fewer new listings than in 2019, reports Hamptons estate agency, and the average rent in a newly-let home in Britain is up 6.9 per cent on September last year.
I owned my own home from 1983 until 2016. I’ve never not had a good job and I’ve never taken a day off sick. But in 2016 I lost my home — a Georgian mini mansion, with floor-to-ceiling windows and a lawn that swept down to a river.
I put in stone floors, salvaged from a derelict church, railings … I can’t go on, it’s too upsetting.
When I was made bankrupt in 2015, I was forced to put it on the market for £400,000 less than I paid for it. (A long story: there’s a memoir, if you’re interested.) Suffice to say, HMRC hate high-earning single females, as do builders, family, neighbours, insolvency lawyers.
As a bankrupt, my rental choices were limited. I found a small house nearby, just outside the market town of Richmond in North Yorkshire, for £1,700 a month. The search was made extra hard given the fact I (then) had four cats and three dogs. Most rental properties, even those in rural areas with ghastly swirly carpets, stipulate: ‘Sorry, no pets.’
In 2020, a white paper was drawn up to allow renters to keep dogs and cats, given that they are, after all, family members, and less likely than toddlers to scribble on walls, but it’s not yet on the statute books.
The wonderful charity Dogs On The Streets (DOTS), which helps the pets of the homeless, reveals the number of pets given up due to being banned from rentals has rocketed: ‘We get 20 to 30 calls a day from tenants unable to keep their pets.’
So I went with this house, but was told: ‘Sorry, it comes furnished.’ I had a lot of furniture. Conran sofas. A 1920s desk. An Eero Saarinen marble table. I was your typical used-to-live-in-Islington high-end cliché. So I begged and said: ‘Well, can’t you put your stuff in storage?’ I was also mindful of my muddy dogs, scratchy cats, but it was no.
The landlady turned up with little warning and an estate agent in tow – my home was up for sale
So I put all my furniture in storage and gave my brand-new appliances — a Smeg range cooker, Miele dishwasher, washing machine and tumble dryer — to a friend. But storage proved so expensive that, one by one, I had to sell everything on eBay.
Imagine my shock when the landlord, a year or so later, said they’d bought a holiday home in Devon and were coming for their furniture. (This is why people buy DFS sofas.)
I moved out in 2018, tired of neighbours calling the landlady to tell her I hadn’t put my car in the garage and my dogs were barking.
That same year, I rented a one-bedroom flat in North London at more than £3,000 a month — to save on hotel bills for work. Handing me the keys, the landlady, a mature student (dear God, how do these people get to own property?), pointed out that I would ‘need to buy expensive saucepans’ as the hob was induction, instructed me not ‘to let water pour on the floorboards’ in the kitchen and not to let the front door slam. Or wear jeans on the sofa as ‘they wear it out’.
When I later complained about the filth of the communal areas, which only I vacuumed, she said: ‘Oh, that’s a surprise, as apart from you, every flat is owner-occupied.’
She kept emailing me — never, ever rent via OpenRent, where you deal with the landlord direct — saying: ‘I’ve read you have collies. They are not in the flat, are they? No pets allowed.’ I kept assuring her they were safely in Yorkshire. She enlisted an upstairs neighbour to spy on me.
I was again evicted, for no reason, in 2019, having spent a fortune moving books, magazines, clothes and my desk 250 miles. (I know the names of the nice men at Watson Removals; I even know the birthdays of a couple of them.)
She said the flat was being sold but, a few weeks later, I saw it up for rent again on Rightmove at an escalated price.
She wanted to withhold some of my deposit as the cheap-looking fairy lights were no longer on the balcony. They broke!
The writer (pictured) says renters close to retirement are ‘infinitely worse’ off than those in their 20s or 30s
Then there was the place in Clerkenwell. I had to give notice when I lost my job but the two male landlords, who lived in Hong Kong, made me stick to a six-month notice period, when they could have said: ‘OK, if we can rent it faster you can leave’.
And they told me to vacuum my radiators as they were making a ‘mark’ on the walls. (Mad!)
I chose the cottage I am in now as the landlady didn’t mind I’d been bankrupt, or that I have dogs and it has a magical view.
When I moved in, it had no heating, laminate flooring and a fuse box that was 26 years old. The washing machine broke and there was no tumble dryer, though the lease bans putting up a washing line. The roof and windows still leak. Exiting the front door on a rainy day is like braving Niagara Falls (I have videos).
I know it was idiotic to spend tens of thousands of pounds of my own money on it, but I work from home and needed heating. The bathroom was mouldy and having a hot bath is my one luxury.
In all, I spent £59,000. I updated the heating with a new boiler and radiators upstairs and replaced the fusebox. I put in flagstones, I had the chimney swept, installed new blinds and shelving and I spent more than £12,000 on a beautiful Neptune kitchen.
I know. People warned me not to do it up, as I have no legal redress. But my home is so important to me: I get depressed in a dump.
And so here I am, terrified of being homeless, again. I went to look at another rental the other week. The woman opened the door and a huge Labrador emerged, when her ad had stipulated ‘only one small dog considered for an escalated rent’.
‘How many dogs do you have?’ she asked me, craning to look at the two (out of now four) who had come along for the ride. Me: ‘Um.’
She showed me round and it was lovely. ‘It will come unfurnished.’ I was glad, but slightly galled that I’d also given away my £4,000 Vispring bed, purchased from Selfridges in sunnier days, as my current cottage is so small it wouldn’t fit through the door.
I couldn’t work out the layout of the house. ‘Ah,’ she said, unlocking the door to the loveliest room, dual aspect, with views of a river. ‘We will be locking our furniture in here. This is our forever home. We’ll be back in two years. Which is when you’ll have to move out.’