Insecurity of tenure, inadequate legal protection and a severe lack of publicly available information on individual rental properties are just some of the woes reported by this country’s nine million renters.
But for me, by far the worst characteristic is the breath-taking amateurishness which underpins every aspect of the rental experience.
The Private Landlords Survey in 2010 found that 89 per cent of landlords in England were private individuals, 92 per cent of whom were part-time.
There's nothing fundamentally wrong with this, of course, but when you consider the private rental sector's increasingly important role in our society, it seems anomalous that we leave the housing of so many people in this country up to a raggle- taggle cottage industry of (mostly) well-meaning individuals. Nevertheless, we are doing exactly that.
The UK's cosy and dysfunctional market is due a shake-up, however. And this could come from the new “Build to Rent” sector, created to meet the huge demand for rental accommodation, which aims to transform the rental sector into a slick, customer-focused service industry.
Build to Rent proposals so far look to emulate American-style “multi-family” renting, characterised by predominantly new-build properties offering a range of value added services to tenants, from concierges and on-site gyms to bike workshops and sociable communal spaces.
The intention is to build a warm community where tenants want to spend their leisure time. It will also create a climate for the first time in the private rental sector where the branding and reputation of landlords will become important.
Flat-hunting would-be renters, who currently find themselves in an almost uniquely powerless position, will come to recognise brand names of the institutionally-backed build-to-rent schemes which we can now see emerging in the UK.
Build to Rent providers will need to convince prospective tenants that they offer the best rental experience; a profound shift in a market which is currently dominated by tenants signing a contract based on next to no information and hoping for the best.
If I sound wildly optimistic about these changes, I probably shouldn’t. The rate at which the Build to Rent sector is growing means change will take time, and I for one am not holding my breath.
Nevertheless, letting agents and landlords should take note that this could be the start of a shift. New, more sophisticated entrants are coming into the market and what passes as service today, may not be acceptable in the near future.
Start-ups, institutional investors, tenant groups, entrepreneurs and private companies are targeting the rental sector, and they mean business. Complacency may be starting to have had its day.