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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Emma Magnus

Black mould, bidding wars and busted budgets — the ongoing struggle faced by London renters

In March, a video of prospective tenants queuing to view a two-bedroom property in Chadwell Heath, east London, made headlines after it was posted on Twitter. More than 60 people are shown standing in a line extending down the street. After 162 viewings, the property reportedly received 52 offers, going for £150 a month above its asking rate.

It is not an anomaly. Demand for rental properties has been climbing since 2021, while the number of available homes is dwindling. A report by Zoopla found that London has the worst availability of anywhere in the country of homes for rent, pushing prices to record highs.

The problem peaked last summer, when each property would receive about 10 offers, according to Chestertons. Now, five offers per property is more typical, 80 to 90 per cent of which are over the asking price. “People looking are competing for fewer and fewer places,” says Matt Hutchinson, director of SpareRoom. “It’s not as desperate as it was a few months ago, but it’s still pretty bad.”

Annick Matthews, who started looking for a flat in Hackney with two friends and a combined budget of £2,500, says: “It’s a dire situation. Everyone’s struggling. The housing stock is horrible, the rents are exorbitant and health is not taken into account.”

When she arrived for a viewing, there were 12 groups in front of her. She visited a dozen properties, cancelling plans and rearranging work to attend weekday viewings. “They’re asking for professionals, but then they’re putting viewings during work hours,” says Annick. “A few times, we were given two to five minutes to visit, so we were overlapping constantly with other people.”

Matthews, 33, who works at The Quality of Life Foundation, was shown mouldy flats with tiny rooms — eventually having to accept a property with black mould and a six-month break clause. “You feel powerless because landlords know that if you don’t take it, they’ll find someone who’ll offer more.”

Annick Matthews visited 12 properties, cancelling plans and rearranging work to attend weekday viewings (Handout)

For Dorcas Sukami, the experience was equally discouraging. At 25, she had entered the market optimistic, looking to rent somewhere alone for the first time. But securing viewings was a feat in itself. “It’s a full-time job,” says Sukami, a partnership development manager for a charity who also runs a blog, London Date Planner. “I was on Rightmove, Zoopla and agency websites 24/7, refreshing from early in the morning. I’d call in as soon as I got an alert and they’d say it was gone, even though it just came online. You have to really play the game.”

When Sukami was shown a one-bedroom flat in Leytonstone in January, there were so many people viewing it that she was tempted to leave. “It was so disheartening. I was already at a disadvantage: I didn’t have the salary — although I had a guarantor — I’d started a new job in January so I didn’t even have my first payslip and I was looking at the property just for myself. Walking around and seeing couples planning out where they were going to put their furniture — I had no chance.”

‘We were going from £1,800 to £2,500 for no extra house’

Andy Coley, who runs a leadership training business, found that he needed a bigger salary to rent than when he last moved — and that being self-employed posed further problems. At Christmas, he and his wife learned their landlord was selling the Hither Green property where they had lived with their children for two years.

They had been paying £1,800pcm, but soon realised that a house in the area would cost at least £2,500pcm — a rise of almost 40 per cent. When they had rented the property, they were required to show an income of 25 times the monthly rent. Now, this had risen to 30 times.

In 2022, Coley had caught Covid and his wife underwent an operation, which meant that the year got off to a slower start financially. Investing money back into the company made showing proof of income more difficult too, while none of their parents were eligible guarantors. “We always knew that the renewal was going to be a bit of a struggle,” says Coley. “I’m 47 and my wife’s 45. We’re in the middle of our life and we can’t afford a house on paper.”

After viewing five properties and putting offers down on two, they secured a property listed on OpenRent, offering £200 over the asking price. It involved some compromise, but ultimately prevented them from moving further away — and possibly paying more. They were told that there were four interested parties.

“It was worth it just to get rid of the stress of it,” says Coley. “It’s the whole stress of finding somewhere – it’s not just you, it’s your kids; the school they go to; how many hours further out you go.”

Andy Coley and his family found that renting a house in their area would increase their monthly payments by around 40 per cent a month (Handout)

But not all renters have the budget to up their offers. Matthews was told that one property she visited had received 17 offers, and was encouraged to offer £200 per month more than the asking price. “The real estate agent was pushing us, saying: ‘If you don’t offer more, you won’t get it.’ But this was our budget.”

Sukami also found the expectation to outbid made it harder to compete with wealthier renters. “People were putting a year’s rent in advance or offering higher [than the asking price]. You’re not only in the same bracket as people with your budget, but also those with higher budgets. It’s frustrating.”

How the selection process is changing

As well as raising rents — which have increased by 16.1 per cent in London in the last year, according to Zoopla — the soaring demand for properties is making landlords more selective about tenants.

“It’s fairly horrendous to be in the position where you’re getting hundreds of responses and you somehow have to choose one person. People will be looking for the most minuscule reasons not to respond because it’s overwhelming. It’s impossible to get through them all,” says SpareRoom’s Hutchinson.

This was Andrew Dunning’s experience when choosing a tenant for his Islington flat. Within 48 hours of listing it, he received 40 enquiries. When he last listed it in 2020, he had received one. “There were five sets of people I would happily have rented it to,” says Dunning, 54. “It’s like having to reject good applicants for a job. It’s never nice to do.”

According to Sian Smith, a spokesperson for the London Renters Union (LRU), rigorous selection processes are becoming an increasing concern. Smith has spoken to renters being asked for cover letters, full employment CVs, photos, bank statements and interviews —including a tenant who was asked to meet their prospective landlord for a “social chat” over coffee. It is easy to find ads on sites like SpareRoom and OpenRent requesting things like social media links or up to a year’s rent in advance.

Sukami decided to save for a house deposit: “The stress of looking for somewhere to rent is not something I want to put myself through again.” (Dorcas Sukami)

Jazmyn Sadri, 28, had an interview with five other people for a house on Green Lanes when looking for a studio flat. She was told that, if successful, a second-round interview would follow.  During her search, Sadri attended three separate interviews where she was asked about her habits and personality. “It’s pretty invasive to be honest, and I think it’s inappropriate,” says Smith on tightening selection procedures. “It’s representative of the huge power imbalance, but it negatively impacts people who are in more vulnerable situations. It allows a level of discrimination that would not have been possible before.”

Yazan Khoury, 23, felt that being Syrian delayed his search for a two-bedroom flat, despite having lived in the UK for seven years. He was asked for extra referencing, a guarantor, a reference from his cousin who he had lived with, how long he had been in the UK and why.

“I was told that the extra checks they needed to do might elongate the process,” he says. “What ‘extra checks’? I was a student and now I’m working, so what’s the matter? It’s this kind of stuff. You just feel it. I have a friend who is Syrian but also holds British nationality. They moved in a week.”

It took Yazan, who works as an estate agent himself, around a month to find a flat near Archway, which he eventually secured using a tenants’ app, tlyfe, which allows users to make themselves “Rent-Ready” with Right-to-Rental, ID verification and references collected together.

“Moving out alone is stressful…Having to prove yourself different times to different people is not the best,” he says. “This isn’t the first time that this has happened to me. Next year, when I’m looking for a new property, the same thing will happen again.”

Future for renters

To LRU, the Renters Reform Bill will improve the situation. “That needs to be brought forward, because [Section 21] spurs evictions and competition in the private rental sector. It means that landlords and estate agents can play tenants against each other.” Changes to discrimination laws, giving local authorities more power to enforce the tenants’ rights and rent caps are also part of the solution, says Smith.

“It’s hard to see where the extra rental supply is going to come from,” says Hutchinson, who argues that major intervention is needed: greater regulation for tenants, incentives for landlords and more affordable housing.

“People’s lives are being affected. It’s not just the money going out of their pockets or the stress of moving. We are potentially affecting the prospects of a generation.”

Know your rights when renting

Under the Equality Act 2010, it is illegal for landlords to discriminate against a prospective tenant on the basis of disability, race, religion, pregnancy or maternity, sex, gender reassignment and sexual orientation. These are called protected characteristics.

Income and employment are not protected characteristics, however. Nor are age, marriage and being in a civil partnership. According to the Government’s anti-discrimination code of practice, it is unlawful to:

  • Refuse to let a property to someone on the basis of a protected characteristic.
  • Treat a person differently, including the way their right to rent checks are carried out.
  • Impose different letting terms.

Before starting a new tenancy, landlords are required to check tenants’ right to rent by carrying out document checks. These should be applied consistently. It is discrimination if a landlord:

  • Only carries out checks because of a tenant’s skin colour or ethnicity.
  • Only carries out checks on people they do not believe to be British.
  • Refuses to consider tenants without British citizenship.
  • Treats people with a time-limited right to rent differently.

For more advice, visit the Government website, or

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