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In 1918, about 80% of UK homes were privately rented, while 20% were owner-occupied. Over a century later, those figures have been reversed, with around 20% of the UK population in long-term private rental homes. But that number is rising, as fewer people among recent generations can afford to buy their own home.
There are currently about five million UK households in private rented accommodation, with 5.79 million expected by 2021. That would not be such a bad thing, but British long-term home rentals have downsides that don’t exist in some other European countries (e.g. Germany).
Probably the worst aspect of renting a home in the UK is that tenants rarely have peace of mind. A typical “assured shorthold tenancy” gives landlords the right to evict occupants without justification after the first tenancy period (typically 6 or 12 months). Hence, families have little security, and children are sometimes forced to change schools multiple times.
A widespread inability to afford home ownership creates a demand for more rental properties, which in turn drives up rent costs. Thus, while renting remains a more realistic option for many people, it still eats up a lot of their net income and harms the economy. Plus, the more desirable the location regarding work and amenities, the harder it is to find suitable properties, to begin with. And that invites exploitation.
There are other perils for would-be tenants in the UK today, such as rogue landlords and scammers, or dubious letting agents charging extortionate fees.
Increasing demand for long-term private rental homes feeds the growing “build-to-rent” sector, which should, ideally, be bolstered by sturdier regulations to protect tenants.