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LIFE HONESTLY

I never minded being part of Generation Rent. Until I was evicted yesterday

Renting housing for your entire life doesn’t have to be depressing, says Caroline O’Donoghue – unless you live in the UK, perhaps

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By Caroline O'Donoghue on

I was evicted yesterday. It still feels like a strange thing to say, let alone write. On a somewhat-snotty, terminally middle-class level, I’ve always associated evictions with some failure of moral character. People are evicted for noise complaints or for growing drugs in their wardrobe. Best-case scenario, they are evicted because their landlord has died and their children are selling the property. Even then, no one calls it an “eviction”, but a gentle rearrangement of circumstance.

This is all bollocks, of course. You can get evicted for any reason at all, regardless of your moral character or how many drugs you have in your wardrobe. We live in the UK, where landlords can evict tenants at the end of the initial contract period without justification. In my case, it’s because of my dog. We adopted her a year ago, with the written permission of our landlord. In the last week, the previously invisible building manager (who, the landlord had assured us, would be fine with it) has both discovered the dog’s existence and announced that he does not allow dogs. The dog’s quietness, cuteness or general popularity in the building has no bearing on his decision. We were instructed that either we would have to move out or the dog would. We are not permitted to finish out our lease, which we re-signed in February. It was the flat or the dog, and we choose the dog.

I’ve never much minded being a part of Generation Rent. Honestly. I’ve cheerfully lodged my rent on time every month, never caring that I was lining a stranger’s pockets with money I was never going to see a return on. I called it my Freedom Tax – this is the money I pay so I never have to worry about a boiler. This is the money I pay so I never have to pick out tiles. This is the money I pay so I can move to Germany tomorrow without having to worry about paying off a mortgage.

But, here’s the thing: I don’t actually want to move to Germany tomorrow. I want to go on living in the flat I’ve lived in for three years. I want to keep living above my favourite pub, keep getting served by the same barista. I want a base. So much changes in your late twenties and early thirties: people get sick, expectations alter, salaries jump, babies happen, governments change and your opinion on the government changes with it. Should I really have to worry about being evicted, when I’ve been a good tenant? Should I really feel like a criminal for owning a dog, the contraband item that every other family in the UK has?

Should I? No. Will I? Probably, yes. A cheery study on the BBC homepage announces that a third of millennials will rent property from cradle to grave – a headline I would have shrugged at a month ago, but now feel incredibly morose about. Having lived through Ireland’s economic crash in the late noughties, I remember the pain and anxiety my family went through when every business in the city crumbled. I remember the relentless cutbacks and changes to our living standards. But, most of all, I remember having our house at the end of the day. It felt like Tara in Gone With The Wind – yes, the elaborate balls were over and we were scrabbling around for carrots in the dust (I mean, not quite, but you get the picture), but the structure was still there. The place we were raised in was still fundamentally ours.

If you have security, agency and the right to the place you’re paying to maintain, renting could be a dream

Obviously, people have been trying to fix this problem for a hot minute now. We all know the issue: there are too many people, not enough houses and the exorbitant rent on the existing houses prevents people from saving the enormous deposit required to buy the few for-sale properties. In fact, we know all this so well that we spend most of our time reiterating the depressing realities of Generation Rent and very little time pushing for change. No, we can’t magic up new property, but we can push for tenancy-protection laws that improve on the dismal ones people (who, importantly, have much bigger renting problems then “my landlord hates my dog”) are faced with right now; for one, the enormous letting fees that are crippling young people – and are totally unregulated – still go unsolved. This isn’t about dogs and cats – this is about the fundamentals of being allowed to live without fear. It’s fine for me, an upwardly mobile millennial who is earning, able-bodied and who has a partner who's the same. I’ll have a flat within three weeks. It’s a whole different ball game for single parents, disabled people or – shock! – people who are on benefits.

If, for example, I did move to Germany in the morning, I’d have to cough up my deposit and go through all the same reference checks as I would in the UK (albeit slightly more rigorous and detailed), but I’d enjoy a level of tenure. “Most tenancies are indefinite and only in very limited circumstances can landlords evict tenants,” reads one think-tank’s study.  “German tenancies last, on average, 11 years compared to only 2.5 years in England.” Germans aren’t the only ones getting better deals on rent than we are – in Italy as well as Germany, deposits are given back with interest and rent cannot be raised more than 75 per cent of the cost-of-living index. In Luxembourg, the tenant always has the right to renew their lease, unless the landlord can prove they need to use the house themselves. Most European countries have hundreds of laws that protect the tenant above the landlord, which makes complete sense when the tenant class far outnumbers the landlord one. While Scotland has reformed their tenancy law hugely, in the rest of the UK we are still treat renting as a temporary stop-gap for students and foreigners, so the law favours landlords. But it’s not a stop-gap. It’s the rest of our lives.

Renting for your entire life doesn’t have to be a depressing reality. If you have security, agency and the right to the place you’re paying to maintain, renting could be a dream. Maybe it’s time we made it one.

@Czaroline

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