If we needed any further proof that the UK is becoming a nation of renters, the latest Eurostat figures comparing numbers of people renting to other EU nations puts Britain in fifth place, behind only Germany, Austria, Denmark, and France. The percentage of homeowners in the UK currently ranks as the 24th lowest of all 28 EU nations at just 65 per cent.
These statistics really put the label 'Generation Rent' in sharp perspective: renting is not a blip in the UK's history of homeowner aspiration, but a reality that is not going away any time soon. We are, to all effects and purposes, a nation of renters. But how do UK renters' rights compare to those of other renter nations?
Unsurprisingly, the comparison does not reflect well on the current legal rights for renters in Britain. Renters are still subject to unfair eviction notices (often as a result of asking for necessary repairs), sharp and unexpected rent increases, and lack of tenancy security, with the typical length of a contract just one year. By contrast, if you are renting in Germany, your tenancy is subject to strong rent controls, with the newest legislation even preventing landlords from raising their rent too much when re-letting the property to a new tenant. The number of people who spend over 40 per cent of their income on rent is 23 per cent, as opposed to 33 per cent in the UK (and two-thirds of renters in London).
Austria and Denmark likewise have strong legal protection for renters. In Austria, the minimum tenancy contract is three years long, with a get-out clause after the first year. The maximum amount of rent that can be charged on any property is stipulated in Austrian law, and any landlord trying to charge more would be doing so illegally, making the contract void. Denmark has similar laws that make it illegal for landlords to increase rent beyond what is stipulated in the law, and can even face a prison sentence if they don't comply. Denmark also has robust protection mechanisms against unfair evictions, with landlords only able to evict tenants for damage to property or the violation of their housing association rules.
The rules of renting are somewhat different in France – for instance, French landlords can ask their tenants to take out insurance prior to moving in, by law – but the French system is still strongly pro-tenant. For example, French law prohibits the landlord from entering the property they're letting out without prior consent of the tenant, and they can be charged with harassment if they don't comply. The standard lease term in France is three years, as in many other European countries.
It's easy to see that Britain is still far behind in protecting its tenants – who will form the majority by 2039 if the current trend of the decline in home ownership continues. With so many of us renting for life, stronger tenants' rights enshrined in law are urgently needed.
- New to renting? Check out our beginner's guide to renting