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Why we need to change the narrative about renting a home

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On the back of the Social Market Foundation's report, Where next for the private rented sector?, Paragon Bank Managing Director of Mortgages Richard Rowntree discusses the need to change the narrative about privately renting, as the reality shows us a very different perspective and demonstrates the clear benefits.

Let’s face facts, the private rented sector has a reputation problem. Perceived to be the poor relation of housing provision, the sector is unloved, misunderstood and certainly misrepresented.

From the stereotype of the poor family hiding from the sinister Victorian landlord, to the modern day ‘Landlords from Hell’ TV programmes that populate our more sensationalist channels, privately renting is typically associated with negativity.

Very rarely do we hear about the benefits landlords and the private rented sector have brought to the housing market and the millions of people who rent.

It’s now time to move that conversation on and change the perceptions of privately renting as the reality is rather different.

The vast majority of landlords provide good quality homes; they view their tenants as customers or clients. They invest in the property, helping to drive up standards of rented homes. They comply with the myriad – and growing list – of regulations that govern the sector.

We commissioned the Social Market Foundation to examine how tenants feel about privately renting and what can be done to improve the experience of renters.


The SMF surveyed nearly 1,400 tenants and the results will cause some surprise to those not close to the sector - 81% of renters say they are happy with their current property, and 85% said they are satisfied with their landlord.

Satisfaction with private renting is particularly high among older renters: nearly three-quarters (74%) of those aged 55 and over report being satisfied.

Private renters particularly value not having to pay for repairs, or insurance and other costs, whilst some also see it as a way to afford more expensive locations or to live more flexibly.

It’s a far cry from the image of ‘reluctant renters’ who are unhappy with their home and landlord. In fact, the greatest gripe about renting is with “being a renter”, though still only a minority (34%) say they are dissatisfied with this status.

Too often the narrative around renting is set by our politicians. Getting people on the housing ladder is a vote winner, facilitating a thriving rental sector is not. Therefore, we get a black and white picture painted by those in power and renting is often framed negatively.

We need a more nuanced debate regarding the pros and cons of renting, as well as how to create a private rented sector fit for purpose for years to come.

The SMF’s report made some interesting recommendations and should help stimulate that debate. For example, it recognises that most renters ultimately want to move into home ownership, so how do we support renters to build wealth?

Another area is giving tenants greater stability, as well as more control over their homes. A large majority of renters support a fixed minimum contract length; 69% would be in favour of setting this at 24 months.

They also want to make it easier to keep pets or make reasonable alterations, such as to décor or energy efficiency. That seems a sensible and reasonable focus.

Finally, the SMF recommends that to help improve the standard of private rented properties, the Government offers tax incentives to encourage landlords to invest.

Today, millions of people call the private rented sector home. And, looking at the SMF forecasts, it is likely that going forward, more people will be living in rented homes for longer.

So, let’s stop perpetuating the myths and misconceptions about renting, recognise the benefits renting delivers to individuals, communities and the economy and let’s discuss how we can make privately renting even better for tenants.