Opinion: It’s not all Home Sweet Home in Brighton and Hove
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Communities
Brighton tops UK's 'happiest homes' poll
By Chris Henry, a leader in the Home Sweet Home campaign.
If you’ve ever visited Brighton you probably thought it was a great place to live. With a lively nightlife, beach, beautiful parks and Regency architecture it has something for everyone. What it also has, however, is a lack of affordable housing, huge demand on a limited amount of rental properties and a market dominated by a glut of letting agents.
The amount of private rented properties in Brighton and Hove is 21% – twice as high as the national average – and the city has the sixth largest private rented sector in the country and over seven times the number of converted flats. The result of this has been a reduction in living space, a growth in communal facilities such as bathrooms and a rise of ‘odd’ spaces to live in – mezzanine levels as bedrooms, shower cubicles next to cooking facilities and dangerous flooring or lack of light and so on.
What it doesn’t result in is a decent standard of housing for tenants for the money they spend. The average rent for a property in Brighton is £1,340 per calendar month. By way of a comparison, Bristol’s average is £953 and Liverpool’s is £549. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that because of the heavy demand for rental properties letting agents are also less than helpful to tenants. In fact, it often sounds like the agents are there simply to hoover up money from tenants in the form of fees whilst providing zero service.
Still, that’s all to be expected from landlords and letting agents, isn’t it?
Or is it? Why should some letting agents, for example, take a percentage of profits and yet not provide a service? Why should landlords be able to live abroad, ignorant of the fact their tenants have had a broken boiler for three weeks? Why should a single mother live in a property where the rain enters through the roof causing damp and mould? There are plenty of decent landlords and letting agents in our city – some of whom are working with us – who are just as perturbed by the business practices of some of their competitors as we are, who bring the whole sector into disrepute.
The Home Sweet Home campaign, supported by Movement for Change, was born of a mix of young professionals, students and families, renters and landlords, united by bad experiences with the Brighton and Hove rental market. We have all lived with problems such as damp and mould, cold, overcrowding, noise, equipment in a dire state of repair, unfeasibly high fees and arguments over deposits and inventories, and terrible service from letting agents.
The campaign’s aim is to find out more about the reality of renting in Brighton and Hove and then act to change it using community organising.
In the past few months we’ve met people with terrible experiences who want to see things change. We’ve run mystery shopping actions across the city to identify the companies and places where change has to be made, and have gathered hard proof of some of the issues. Off the back of this research, we want to encourage bad letting agents to behave more like the good ones they are in competition with by shaming bad practice, encourage the council to take more action on tackling bad landlords and enforcing existing legislation, and make sure tenants and landlords in Brighton and Hove are fully informed of both their rights and responsibilities with a rating system to help build a better PRS for everyone.