RENTERS looking for a one bedroom flat in Brighton and Hove would have to be earning almost £50,000 to afford it, according to council bosses.

The figures come from Brighton and Hove City Council’s own housing experts who say renters would need a salary of £48,016 to reasonably pay the £912 average rent.

And yet what tenants can get for their money, The Argus can reveal, is a dark and poky property in a converted house without off-road parking.

This newspaper made the discovery by posing as a would-be renter where we visited properties across the city ranging from the cheapest on the market to the overall average rent, which according to housing charity Shelter is £1,149.

Comparatively average rents in Worthing are £715, £556 in Hastings, £671 in Eastbourne, £747 in the Arun district and £833 in Adur.

Brighton and Hove’s average rent outstrips the national average of £788 by 46 per cent, according to the charity.

The median total earnings of a household in the city are £28,240 before tax according to the figures taken from the city council's housing market report.

The monthly cost of the average rent for a one bedroom flat is the equivalent of repayments on a £156,052 mortgage which would take an income of £48,000 to finance, the experts said.

Campaigners warned the statistics were “profoundly disturbing” and they estimated 37 per cent of rented stock in the city is below par.

Mike Stimpson, chairman of the Southern Landlords Association (SLA), has been letting property across the South East for 59 years and has 400 tenants on his books, said: “We do not let pigsties and we would not let any properties we would not live in ourselves”.

Private landlord Gary Waller, who runs eight properties and chairs the SLA in Brighton and Hove, described the figure of 37 per cent as “rubbish” but added: “There is a problem with absentee landlords who want the rental return without putting in the hard work.”

The city council’s report identifies the average house price in the city is £291,854, which is 55 per cent higher than the national average.

Campaigners are calling on artificial methods to control rents but landlords said that would drive investors away and additional licensing expenses would drive rents up.

David Gibson, from the Living Rent Campaign, said: “The private rental market is failing many in our city. Many landlords make huge profits, yet 37 per cent of homes are not even decent."

One of the answers proposed to help bring the rental market under control is being championed by MP for Brighton Pavilion Caroline Lucas in the form of a national Living Rent Commission.

The living rent is rental charges which are proportionate to your income, and some campaigners say you should not be paying more than approximately third of your salary on housing.

Ms Lucas said: “People who grew up in the city are having to move away from friends, family and communities to afford enough space to have children."

MY DEPRESSING DAYS SPENT HUNTING FOR A DECENT HOME

The Argus: Hove Seafront. £895.Hove Seafront. £895.

WITH a notebook full of addresses, numbers, appointment times and a budget of up to £1,150, I headed out to find somewhere to live in Brighton and Hove.

My mission was to find a flat for my marketing executive persona and his imaginary girlfriend.

Throughout my spins on the rental roundabout there were three consistent themes.

Properties were predictably expensive, as you have come to expect in Brighton and Hove, but also often cramped, with bedrooms that have barely big enough room for a double bed and they were regularly run down, frequently featuring creeping damp or what was brushed off by agents as “water leaks”. 

The first challenge came before I had even stepped out of my front door.

Often properties were gone just hours after they had been being posted on the Rightmove website, snapped up by eager renters vying for a spot in the bloated private rental market which takes up nearly a third of all the city’s housing stock.

Lettings agents have previously said properties on the rental market take just three days to find a tenant due to demand.

This quick turnaround of properties caused problems even on my days of viewings. Once I was left standing on a freezing cold doorstep of a one-bedroom flat just off Lewes Road, waiting for a letting agent who did not show up.

The Argus: London Road area £750London Road area. £750.

I only found out the flat had already been let after I phoned up to find out what was going on, only to be told I had wasted a trip.

My search for a new home started in the affluent neighbourhood surrounding Seven Dials with a viewing at a massive ground-floor flat which sprawled over the entire first storey of a town house just a stone’s throw from Brighton Station - it sounded lovely.

For a comparatively reasonable Brighton and Hove price in the lower £800s it seemed like a relative bargain.

But after being in the flat for some time there was a stench of damp. When I looked in the bathroom, there was black of mould creeping across the ceiling.

Without double glazing and with further evidence of water damage in the kitchen and a general feel of disrepair, this one was a no go.

I was also excited by my second viewing, a property perched right on Hove seafront.

The Argus: Central Hove. £750.Central Hove. £750.

The promise of a sea view was welcome for the near £900 price tag but after getting inside and being led through the ornate hallway, my heart dropped when the agent stopped at a door at the back of the stairwell.

The inside the property was well turned out and furnished but had a very low light level due the fact every single window was frosted, like a managing director’s cubicle in some big city office.  Bang went my dreams of a sea view.

The one bedroom, while having built-in cupboards, was poky and you would struggle to fit much more than a double bed inside – with the living space was not being much to write home about either.

I stayed in Hove for the next viewing, going central and heading to a basement flat in the mid-£700 mark.  The front garden in this house conversion was overgrown and full of rubbish and the inside once again had the usual damp aroma.  A good-sized living space and bedroom left you with not enough room to swing a cat in the small kitchen which backed on to the even smaller bathroom.

The Argus: Preston Park. £675.Preston Park. £675.

Being a basement flat it was also very dark. I had to turn on the lights just to get a good look, despite it being the middle of the day.

Heading up to the Lewes Road area, I saw a property marketed as a studio flat on Rightmove, which actually turned out to be a one person bedsit upon booking – meaning it had a shared bathroom.

This was the cheapest I found in the city, being less than £400, and for that you got yourself a single room with a microwave, sink and a single wooden chair along with the shared bath and toilet.

During the group viewing a man actually ended up snapped the property up without a second thought.

Next on my checklist was a property at the south end of Preston Park which was also marketed at the mid-£700 rent mark.

The electric was not working, a good start, and damp reared its sodden head once again with no separate kitchen to speak of and water damage on the ceiling of the bedroom ceiling.

My next property was definitely the best of the bunch with an airy, light, ground-floor flat near the north end of Preston Park.

In a purpose built block, the property was newly refurbished with no signs of damage or damp.

The price was also pretty tidy as well, being less than £700 a month, but the property itself was still small and had a combined kitchen and living room.

The Argus: St James's Street area. £795.St James's Street area. £795.

But the best led to one of the worst viewings – at a property in the heart of Kemp Town which was accessed through a seedy alleyway between shops.

This cavernous studio flat carried an £800 pricetag and also showed telltale signs of damp, despite its rather nice spacious kitchen.  The final stop was a two-bedroom flat near Seven Dials which was advertised for the city’s average rental price.

Size was the big sticking point once again – for the same price you could get yourself a three-bedroom bungalow or a four-bedroom terraced house just down the coast in Newhaven.

Granted Newhaven is not Brighton and Hove but, still, to pay over a grand for a property which barely fits a double bed in the master bedroom is outrageous.

The Argus: Seven Dials area. £1,150.Seven Dials area. £1,150.

CAMPAIGN CALLS FOR GENUINELY AFFORDABLE RENTAL PRICES

CAMPAIGNERS are calling for a variety of measures to help cut rent costs nationally and locally.

Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas wants to create a Living Rent Commission to calculate “what a genuinely affordable level of rent looks like in different places, bearing in mind other costs of living and wage levels”.

Ms Lucas said: “It could also incorporate factors such as tenancy security, for example, by taking into account the average length of tenancies in a given area. It would look into whether the rent levels should be set locally – to account for different rent levels across the country.

“The commission would work with all options on the table. That means considering not just so-called “smart” rent controls – which would limit rental cost increases in line with inflation – but also, ultimately, mechanisms to cap and lower rents.”

The living rent is a term often associated with the notion that no more than a third of your monthly wage should be spent on rent.

Other options include re-establishing rent control regulations which existed in the UK before 1988, when they were overturned by Margaret Thatcher as part of free market reforms.

This allowed local authority rent officers to negotiate significantly lower rents for private tenants.

European countries like Germany and Switzerland also have mandated rent controls along with growing rental markets.

David Gibson of the Living Rent Campaign said: “To put it right we need secure tenancies and rent controls like in Germany.

“It works there and rents are lower, tenants are secure and homes are well maintained “We are calling for living rents, like a living wage, that leaves people enough to live on – is that too much to ask for the sixth richest country in the world?”

The Labour council in Brighton and Hove is also looking into a new licensing scheme which would allow them to crack down on rogue landlords and strengthen tenants’ rights. It has set aside £39,000 in the budget to provide funding to support raising standards in the private rented sector.

TENANTS FEEL SQUEEZE

RENTING in Brighton and Hove is the norm for about a third of residents.

Every year, stories about rising rents and spiking house prices hit the papers as the market booms.

With rents for properties climbing by as much as 11.5 per cent in the past year, it is the tenants who end up feeling the squeeze.

Rents in the city are now 46 per cent higher than the national average and are outstripping household earnings.

The prices of flats and houses seem to be on a never-ending rise and are pulling private rents with them.

The Argus is shining a spotlight on the problems facing people stuck in “generation rent” as they have no choice but to live in expensive properties, many of which are not up to scratch, or move away from the city they love.

INVESTIGATION IN PUBLIC INTEREST

IN ORDER to investigate the problems with Brighton and Hove’s private rental market The Argus posed as a tenant looking for a property.

In doing this we engaged in subterfuge which is protected in clause 10 of the Society of Editors’ code of practice.

The investigation was carried out in the public interest as it contributed to a matter of public debate.