As affordable properties become scarce, living with a partner is becoming less about romance and more about cost-cutting
24-year-old Ellie* lives with her ex-boyfriend.
The pair of them split a while ago, and have since informed their landlord that they’ll be moving out. But, as Ellie has found, it’s not been as simple as packing her bags and parachuting into the first spare room available: at the moment, she can’t find anywhere that she can afford.
“On SpareRooms, people have been telling me that they’re getting up to 400 messages for one room. On Facebook groups, I’ve seen people advertising spare rooms for £1,400 a month, and people posting about having to sofa surf because they can’t find anywhere to live,” she tells me. “It just feels strange – even though I’ve got a full-time job, I’m unable to find somewhere to live, without having the financial backing of being with a partner.”
Breakups are always painful – but this added stress is making the experience even more unbearable for Ellie. “It’s made separating harder as we both have nowhere else to go to,” she continues, adding that “resentment” is building between the two of them. “It feels like our only options are to move home or sleep on friends’ sofas.”
“It’s made me regret separating purely because at least looking for places as a couple makes things slightly more affordable and there’s a bit less competition,” she adds. “It definitely was a consideration when we were deciding to split as to whether we could actually even afford to do so.”
For young people, moving in with a partner has always been a big relationship milestone – just as it was for Ellie and her partner. Dispiritingly, though, in recent years, moving in with a partner has become less about taking a relationship to the next level, and more about convenience. Things have gotten considerably worse over the past 12 months: in many places, renters are staying put for longer to avoid higher rents elsewhere, meaning there are fewer houses on the market. Meanwhile, incoming regulations have encouraged some landlords to sell up. Essentially, demand is far outstripping supply, leaving desperate and vulnerable tenants with zero bargaining power.
“It just feels strange – even though I’ve got a full-time job, I’m unable to find somewhere to live, without having the financial backing of being with a partner” – Ellie
As a result, ‘bidding wars’ are becoming increasingly common, where tenants are forced to offer over a property’s listed price just to stand out from the swathes of other prospective tenants. Stories of over 50 people turning up to view a single flat abound online. Stats paint a bleak picture too: in the 12 months leading up to July 2022, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) recorded the largest annual growth rate of private rental prices since its index began in 2016.
This, in turn, is wreaking havoc on relationships. Some, like Ellie and her ex, are finding that the moving out process at the end of a cohabiting relationship is needlessly and painfully protracted. Others are finding themselves owing their partners thousands in rent money. Many are unable to even move in together, or even live in the same city, as rising rents are driving young people to move back home. On the other end of the spectrum, as landlords are more likely to choose couples as tenants, many are delaying inevitable breakups or prematurely diving into cohabiting just to make the housing search slightly more bearable. One 2021 survey even found that 18 per cent of respondents moved in with their partner mainly because it was “financially beneficial”. Who said romance was dead!
For Poppy*, the current crisis is acting as an incentive to get back with an ex. She split with her partner in January and has been lodging with friends ever since. “This is all I can really afford on my salary – I can’t afford to rent a one-bedroom flat in London,” Poppy, a lawyer, tells me. “I feel really unsettled.”
Poppy’s ex is keen for them to get back together, which is looking like an increasingly appealing offer to her. “Genuinely, a massive determining factor in me thinking that I’m probably going to do that, is just that it would be so nice to live in my own place again,” she says. “For all my possessions to not be in boxes in storage, to not be faced with the prospect of living in a tiny room in a shared house for the next few years. Which is really depressing, but it’s true.”
“I assumed I would have financial independence and housing security at this point in my life” – Poppy
It’s jarring. You’d think that in 2022, ‘having a job’ would equal financial independence and security, but evidently this is far from the case. “I had a conversation with my boss a few months ago and she half-jokingly said I just need to meet a rich man,” Poppy says. “I was just so pissed off because it’s true.”
“The thought of needing to meet a partner in order to have any kind of housing security is so toxic but it dominates my choices around dating and thoughts about meeting anyone,” she continues. “That’s really depressing – I assumed I would have financial independence and housing security at this point in my life.”
One in three millennials will never own a home, and things aren’t looking much brighter for Gen Z either. Many of us have accepted this, and some studies show that young people are increasingly ambivalent about home ownership. But this just makes it even more cruel and unjust that renting is now becoming untenable too. As Vicky Spratt, housing rights campaigner and author of Tenants told Dazed in June, we need “immediate” solutions to protect tenants now. “These are: regulating the private rental sector, making sure that renters have rights, that they can’t be evicted very easily, making sure that landlords have to carry out repairs, and also regulating rents,” she said.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that big, abstract economic circumstances have little bearing on our day-to-day lives, but the personal and the political have always been completely intertwined. This is why it’s vital we get angry, and stay angry, before government inaction and apathy encroach on our freedoms any further. Because it’s bad enough to be forced to stay in a mould-ridden one-bedroom apartment that costs over half your wage – but worse still to have to live there with a person you don’t even love anymore.
*Names have been changed