Comment by Ms A Verage
WITH inflation confirmed for the last quarter to have been be 12.7% and not slowing in Jersey, we do have an interesting time ahead, with the prospect of significantly increased rents and cost of living remaining high.
A fascinating question was raised the other day: what help and assistance is being given for renters when house/flat owners can rent out a bedroom in their home, tax free, seemingly encouraging those that really ‘have’ to make further profit?
The approach is certainly a contrast to the consistent refusal to put in place rent caps, rent control, or peg rent to earnings, let alone limit rent increases or enforce rent reductions when appropriate.
The lack of housing regulation in Jersey was also raised in relation to the question: what happens if I improve my landlord’s property? Firstly, it seems there is no obligation for a Jersey landlord to invest in their rental property to make it good for you as a tenant to live in or any better – what you don’t see is often what you get.
There is no encouragement or mandation to provide you with an energy-efficient home, whether by requiring an energy performance certificate (EPC) or a typical monthly cost breakdown for water, central heating, water heating and lighting so that you can compare House A with Apartment B. How many rental properties have you walked into where you are met with white goods which are ancient, energy-guzzling, bank-account-draining? There is no law against this.
Despite kitchens looking tired, you would think that out of the hefty rents charged landlords might be able to install energy-efficient frost free fridge freezers with ‘A’ efficiency ratings, dishwashers which use minimum amounts of water, washing machines which don’t cost an arm and a leg to run, if not actually replacing blown and foggy double-glazing units.
Chances are, Dear Reader, that if you want to reduce your outgoings and expenditure or you want to be more environmentally friendly, the only option available to you is for you to ‘improve’ your landlord’s property or appliances – with their written consent, of course. No rent reduction in Jersey is expected for doing so.
Because your rented property is your home and you may view it as a long-term arrangement – albeit renewable annually or every two to three years – you might think about improving your home and reducing your outgoings.
You might want to put in additional insulation – boosting your heating by buying and running yet another portable gas-filled electric heater or fan heater might not be doable – practically or financially.
You might want to change the hot-water heating system from the one fitted 30 years ago or you might want to have wet electric central heating or have electric heaters fitted instead of the gas central heating.
If you’re really lucky, you might have to live through the inconvenience of work being done around you (often without any rent reduction for the inconvenience) but your landlords may agree to spend some money to improve his or her capital investment while also improving your living situation.
If you’re unlucky, your landlords may give you some options: (a) stay as you are and refuse to do any work – you rented it, so you live with it; (b) you are free to leave and find somewhere else to live which is more energy-efficient but there will be consequences if you break your lease early; or (c) you can stay and pay for and do the improvements yourself.
So having done bits and pieces of improvement, and maybe also having done work for free at the same time on your landlord’s house (which apparently happens quite a bit), how is this taken into account and reflected in the rent review process?
What protection do you as a tenant have to remain in your improved home? In short, it is not reflected at all in the rent review process and, as far as I am able to see, you and I have no protection to allow you to live in your improved home as a private renter. In a very Dickensian way, you are dependent on the kindness, goodwill and generosity of your landlord.
Can your landlord on a rent review look at the market and see what the rent would be for a property similar to yours – as it is now (rather than how it was given to you) – and base your new rent on this? Read your lease. All too often the answer is yes, they are allowed to. Stories of people being priced out of their rented homes because they have improved them or paid to live through the improvement process are tragic, especially in the current economic climate.
Dear Reader, if you are aware of any energy-efficiency audits which have been undertaken in Jersey on the private rental housing stock, please would you let me know?
I am interested to know how my home measures up against the average. I could do some rough and ready calculations based on broad assumptions – all I’d need is a calculator, a pen, paper and a bit of maths to reach a roundabout view. There are some energy calculators available on apps or the internet to work out how many units of electricity you consume using various appliances which may help you understand how much you are paying utility companies for the lack of investment in greener, energy-efficient homes.
But why guess using such a rudimentary process? An EPC surely would not be too difficult for a landlord or his/her agent to produce. Given the size of Jersey and the smaller-still housing stock, some form of government register recording and showing the efficiency of all private and social housing would not be an impossibility.
None of those resources, Dear Reader, will however help you solve the conundrum of what you can then do about the paradox of improvement. Cheaper rent in the private housing sector in Jersey – which is still relatively expensive – may buy you a tired, energy-inefficient home with old appliances but do not assume that by making improvements to your home or replacing white goods this will pay off for you in the longer term.
Make sure you get your landlord’s consent before making any changes to your rented property or disposing of their white goods. Make sure that any assurances or promises that are made to you by your landlord about not having to return the property to its original condition or any other benefits which will be given to you for improvements you carry out are clearly recorded in writing before you spend a penny of your money investing in their property. While this is not an all-encompassing solution, it is at least a proper record of what has passed contemporaneously.
The last thing you want to be doing is trying to fight for fair treatment in a scenario where you are also having to prove what actually transpired months or years before in an unsatisfactory battle of he said, she said. The bigger truth is that without government regulation and registers to protect privately renting tenants and to give us rights in law, there is a massive power and positional disadvantage to being a private renter.
You nor I have any power to change that; your landlord does not have to make your rent affordable, make changes to provide you with an energy-efficient home where the cost of utilities will be as reasonable as possible, or take steps to protect the environment against unnecessary energy consumption or waste. Still less, they do not owe you anything for you making their property better – for the most part, you will be obligated to return the property at the end of the lease in the same state and condition as it was given to you.
– Please, Dear Reader, share your experience of renting or trying to find a rental property with me by emailing email@example.com. Whether you want to chat about administration fees or anything else, please drop me a line. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you