New renting option coming to Britain – and to Archway

A long-derelict skyscraper near where I live is set to become part of a new trend in the British property market – private renting not from individual landlords but from firms.

Completed in 1963, Archway Tower is one of those examples of 1960s architecture that gave 1960s buildings a bad reputation. It was also for a while home of my favourite generator of absurdly complicated paperwork, the Office of the Public Guardian (who just pip the Ministry of Justice to that accolade).

Long since run down, and surrounded by a particularly deadeningly dull concrete ‘open space’ of the sort that makes you wish it had all been built over, Archway Tower is now being developed by the modestly named Essential Living.

As the BBC reports:

Corporate renting – where the landlord is a company, not an individual – has been long-established in the United States.

Now, backed by cash from US pension funds, one UK company is planning to offer 5,000 corporate flats for rent in London alone.

It is claiming to be the first to do so on such a scale…

everything about the apartments has been designed to encourage tenants to stay for several years, rather than the 18 months which is typical.

“If they stay, we’ve made hundreds of thousands of pounds,” says Ian.

“If I could get them to three or four years, I’m laughing,” he adds…

Essential Living says it has not yet worked out what it will charge by the time the flats are let in 2016.

But it rejects the accusation that it is aimed only at wealthy tenants.

“We’re not high-end, luxury. That’s a small sector of the market,” says Ian Merrick.

“We want to be that middle tranche. So we’re not going for the top end.”

When questioned about whether a nurse at the nearby Whittington hospital might ever afford to rent one of the properties, Mr Merrick says there’s no reason why not – if done jointly with a partner.

The reason for that example of a nurse is that a campaign group for renters has already been attacking the idea:

Generation Rent, which used to be known as The National Private Tenants Organisation, believes the flats will be too expensive for most ordinary earners, like teachers or nurses.

“I’m sure I’d like to live there myself,” says Generation Rent’s Alex Hilton.

“But the fact is I won’t be able to afford to live in the Essential Living development in Archway – or any of their proposed developments,” he says.

Quite how Generation Rent has come to that conclusion given the rents are not yet public is unclear, but this negative approach is fairly typical of people campaigning about renting. It’s almost always done in a negative tone, as if the only way to get more and better renting is to always say how dreadful renting is.

That’s why almost no attention is given to how rents have actually not been soaring, even when compared to wages rather than prices, and even in London. With the honourable exception of Hopi Sen, you’ll find pretty much no-one else repeating the point I’ve made before:

Even including London, private rents went up by just 1% in the last year (that’s 1% overall – not 1% in real terms; in real terms private rents fell).

There’s much for pro-renting campaigners to complain about and to want to improve. But there’s also good news to welcome – and if you never do the latter is it really any surprise that so many people continue to instinctively think of renting as a third-best alternative that should be got out of as soon as possible if you can?

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