The Social Market Foundation conducted a survey of renters, and found an overwhelming 81% said they are happy with their current property, with 85% saying they are satisfied with their landlord.
The greatest source of dissatisfaction among tenants is with “being a renter”, though only 34% said they are dissatisfied with this status. The SMF said that this suggests that where people are unhappy in the private rented sector it is not about their living circumstances, but about the fact of having to rent rather than own a home.
The SMF said despite renters’ current views of renting, major trends in housing over the coming years mean that several policy changes are needed to ensure the rented sector continues to work well for tenants.
Only half of renters expect to leave the private rented sector in the next 15 years, suggesting that significant numbers will remain renters for long periods. Among them, the SMF finds that 13% would be satisfied with long-term renting.
That will see the average age of tenants rising: by 2035, more than half of privately renting households are likely to include someone aged 45 or older, the SMF forecast. Couples and families will also make up a rising proportion of renters.
The private rented sector has been under political scrutiny, with the Government’s Levelling Up White Paper promising “a secure path to ownership” and a crackdown on “non-decent rented homes”. Labour, meanwhile, has promised to be the “party of tenants” and raised concern about quality, affordability, and security in private rentals.
The SMF’s research challenges some of the narratives around this policy agenda, and in particular, the assumption that private renting is unsatisfactory and exploitative for the typical renter.
At the same time, it acknowledges that a minority of renters have particularly negative experiences and so endorses measures expected to be in the rental reform white paper (due in spring), such as the abolition of ‘no-fault’ evictions and introduction of a Decent Homes standard for rental properties.
The SMF’s key recommendation is to enable renters to build wealth while remaining in the private rental sector, addressing their number one concern: the financial opportunity cost of renting, which have prevented savings, for a deposit or later life needs. Several innovative schemes could be implemented, including ‘deposit builder ISAs’ that offer a financial return on deposits, or ‘rentership’ models that offer tenants stakes in their building.
Other SMF recommendations to the Government:
Increase the stability of tenancy agreements – A large majority of renters support a fixed minimum contract length: 69% would be in favour of setting this at 24 months.
Giving renters more control over their homes – making it easier to keep pets or make reasonable alterations, such as to décor or energy efficiency.
Increase the accountability of landlords – Through a ‘Good Home, Good Landlord’ kitemark scheme, developed in consultation with renters to recognise landlords that offer good, and not just decent, accommodation.
Improve the standards of private rented properties – Offer tax incentives for landlords to invest in improvements that align with Good Home Good Landlord kitemark standards, including green investments.
Aveek Bhattacharya, SMF Economist and one of the report authors, said: “Dominant cultural narratives about the private rented sector paint a misleading picture. In contrast to the horror stories that get wide circulation, the majority of renters are satisfied with their living conditions and have decent relationships with their landlords.
"It is absolutely right that the Government should seek to help the minority with poor standard accommodation and unprofessional landlords. At the same time, it needs to think harder about what it can offer the typical renter – who is largely happy with their circumstances today, but has doubts about whether they want to keep renting long-term."
"Giving renters more control over their homes – allowing them to keep pets or decorate would help. So would incentivizing landlords to make improvements to properties to make them good, and not just decent. But perhaps the biggest challenge is developing policies that can persuade renters that they are not missing out on financial security and stability if they don’t own their home.”
Richard Rowntree, Paragon Bank Managing Director of Mortgages, said: “The outdated and tired cliches around privately renting need to be challenged and I welcome the findings from SMF’s report. In our experience, the vast majority of landlords seek to provide a good quality home and enjoy a healthy relationship with their tenants; the significant investment in private rented property by landlords has helped drive up standards over the past 15 years and today homes in the sector are generally newer, larger and more energy-efficient than ever before."
“We always seek ways to improve the experience of renting further and welcome the recommendations contained in the report. People from all walks of life now call the private rented sector home and we must strive to create a sector that meets everybody’s needs.”
Isobel Thomson, chief executive at not for profit accreditation scheme, safeagent, adds: "Contrary to common headlines and perceptions, it’s encouraging to see this level of tenant satisfaction in the private rented sector. The fact that over 80 per cent of tenants interviewed were satisfied with their property and landlord is something that reflects what we’re hearing from our agents too.
“This isn’t to say we can’t do more to ensure a system that works for all. While we wait for the more sweeping change promised by government in the Levelling Up White Paper, we can all play our part in improving standards.
“Ultimately, that will often come down to stronger enforcement of regulations from local authorities. But agents and organisations such as safeagent have an important role to play here too – providing the tools that councils need to do this effectively. We also have a collective responsibility to ensure tenants understand their rights and can exercise them effectively.”