Sick of living in shared housing in my mid-twenties I decided to move in with a man I had been seeing for about a year. This was not a decision I was too confident with as I felt the relationship was too young and I had some niggling doubts, but, given that renting a one bedroom flat in London to a graduate just starting a career in a modestly paid sector was unobtainable alone, I thought I was doing the best thing by agreeing to rent jointly with him.
To immensely condense what was an awful period of my life I will say the relationship started to go downhill and eventually became abusive verbally, physically and financially. The private rented sector way of living did not help this.
At our first flat together we were served notice after three months (I now know this was illegal). We moved on. I was left in debt due to paying out money for deposits again and moving costs. On top of that, the landlord paid the original deposit back to my partner – he kept it. We moved another two times in the space of a year and a half after this due to poor living conditions. Each time the landlord would pay the deposit back to him on his say so. When I tried to speak up and ask for money from my then partner it did not end well.
I eventually managed to leave the relationship. This meant leaving our shared property together. It also meant having to live with my abuser for two months whilst we waited for the notice period to end. I am lucky I had friends to stay with or who stayed with me for the majority of this time – others probably are not, especially as a classic tactic of an abuser is to cut off your networks. I did not want to go to a refuge as I was told I would have to quit my job to do so (understandably so the abuser can’t follow me but not practical for a woman proud of her independence and the job she does – it would also make securing another private tenancy near impossible).
After finally moving out of the final property we shared I was told (after four weeks and several chasing emails and calls) the landlord wanted to deduct a significant amount of money from my deposit – the first and only time I have ever had this happen to me. I challenged the landlord of this properly through the TDS. When the deposit money was finally returned I was only given half. When I enquired I was told that the other half would be given to my partner as his name was on the tenancy. I explained I had paid the entire sum and had evidence to back this up. I also explained my ex-partner was abusive, thinking they surely would have provisions for this. I was told if I wanted the other half of the money the only way to get it would be with his permission. I don’t think I need to outline what is wrong with this… I sadly found out later that they had tracked him down and given him the money – almost £700. I was devastated. It felt like he had managed to get a final blow in. Having fled an abusive relationship and being in considerable debt as a result (I had to take a loan to furnish my new property) the money would have been more than handy.
Looking back now I think one of the things that angers me most about this experience is the lack of support for those who experience this form of abuse in this sector. Whilst the social housing world is creating a Domestic Violence Housing Alliance the private rented sector remains unregulated and, it seems, unconcerned with the vulnerabilities people in this housing can face. There are so many areas of the private sector that must be professionalised and regulated – it feels like there is so much that could be done. One starting point could be with deposit protection schemes like TDS. If they would consider reviewing and adapting their policies to allow for some flexibility when dealing with the humane matters that accompany an individual’s housing story could make a huge difference.