Recently, I’ve noticed that many people are finding this blog by googling the simple, unsettling phrase: ‘I can’t pay my rent.’
I’m not talking about the tiny minority of feckless tenants who blow the rent on booze and shoes only to then whine about the resulting eviction, but renters in a genuine bind: when pay or benefits come in late, jobs are lost, rent goes up, or flatmates move out.
When this happens, what do you do?
Negotiate – try and reason with the agent or landlord? Listen to me with my funny jokes. It takes a brave renter to pick up the phone and announce: ‘Hi! Just to let you know - can’t pay this month. I’ll catch up when I can, though. All the best and love to the kids!’
If you’re expecting sympathy, then dream on. Although, I did once speak with an award winning landlady who conceded that modern life is messy, and kindly agrees that as long as tenants contact her and honour a commitment to pay arrears, she would never turf them out. She doesn’t use a letting agent mind you, and therein lies the problem.
The other snag is that rents are too high, and wages and benefits are too low. Working life is complex, tenuous, and precarious: employment nowadays usually involves short term-contracts and temporary jobs, while dipping in and out of benefit claims and low pay, and subsequently being forced to choose: rent or food. What would you do?
There’s sometimes a chance that freelancers and part-time workers can make a back-dated claim for housing benefit, which is always worth a go. Many people are scared of appearing in court (which in reality is like sitting before a kindly man – yes it usually is a man – and explaining your actions.) Being in this position undermines every day, and disturbs every night. The threat of being thrown out and made homeless wrecks your peace of mind. Social housing is occasionally more understanding, but private landlord are stricter (let’s face it, they have a mortgage to pay and finances can be tight at the best of times.)
Of course, you can ask the bank for a loan, or an overdraft, or borrow money from friends and family. But if you are behind with rent, banks are unlikely to help and friends will probably have financial problems of their own.
The next step then is legal proceedings, which can start all too fast. If you are taken to court you can - and should - attend, so as to make a case for staying on and paying up. But what are the chances that landlords and agents will eventually give notice anyway, because they can, and because they want to (even you are a dream tenant wafted in from heaven and paid in full.) Once you miss a payment, you are stuck, and face either doing a runner, or submit to a bad reference from your landlord.
Like I said, it’s horrible. Nobody said that life was going to be easy, but why must it be so hard?