Friday, 24 July 2009


Recently, it has been suggested that a register of landlords might control their worst excesses. Naturally, owners are against the proposal on the basis of ‘human rights,’ even though they ask a lot - bank statements, credit references - from their tenants. A register of landlords might at least prevent rogue repeat offenders scaring tenants away, and then starting anew with a fresh batch of victims.

But we shouldn’t need a register. We need a house. You have a house. You need our rent. We pay the rent. I have an inkling that this bargain goes wrong partly because landlords have unrealistic expectations of tenants, like their behaviour, the impact they will have and the time consumed by managing property. They have genuinely forgotten that there are warm-blooded, sentient humans living in their investment. Owners want tenants who have taken a vow of perfection.

Landlords want sanctified, holy, winged tenants with halos, who will pay over the odds, two years in advance. These dream tenants pester the landlord pleading with them: “Please sir, can I pay you some more?”
Tenants must never ask for repairs. They accept the squalor, conceding: “It’s exactly what we deserve; it is our destiny - so it was written.”
In fact, they replace all appliances with top-end luxury substitutes on moving, out of devotion to, senseless love of their master.

Either that, or owners will settle for virtual tenants, holograms, or spectral beings that waft around the property without landing (I expect they’d still find a way to make deductions for wear and tear.)

Landlords want a signed personal guarantee from god/your chosen imaginary deity, who will rumble assurances from on high that rent will be paid. In credit checks, tenants must also be divine and superhuman, undertaking a solemn vow: “I swear on my firstborn’s life I have never, ever, ever, paid bills on a red final demand.”

Landlords hate being scared. The following is scary: tenants. They would actually quite like it if we paid rent without living in the property, to save all the nasty, disruptive business of having us contaminating the flat with our presence (even though we pay to live in it.)

Landlords also want the power to dismiss us instantly by snapping their fingers and intoning: “I evict you, I evict you, I evict you,” because it’s Wednesday, or because they stood in a crack in the pavement, or because their astrologer advised against Scorpios, and men (or women) with moustaches.

Robot tenants are the future. Perhaps the National Landlords Association has constructed a clone of us all which they keep in a pod at the Masonic Lodge. Stepford renters leave no messy residue, and are highly obedient. Landlords want armies of cloned mechanical tenants, marching in step like the workers in Metropolis: “Master, we obey and will sign the S.21 notice, just as you order us to.”

Meanwhile, we remain defiantly and flamboyantly human. Landlords must deal with us as we are now, but still operate as if tenants are drones and good for one thing only, and that’s money.


Nearly Legal said...

You managed to kick off quite a discussion on the police and unlawful eviction with your last comment on Nearly Legal (although a slightly weary one as we all know that the police will never, ever, treat unlawful eviction as the criminal offence that it is.

Now, beyond landlords expecting automaton tenants who will recharge in cupboard each night, we bring you the utter absence of any requirement to have regular checks on the safety of electrics, unlike the gas check rules. There is a terrible story behind this, but it is an issue we think needs awareness, raising and pushing upwards.

Sorry for the promo, but see:

Dara said...

With the greatest of respect (and I do mean that), this is one of THOSE articles. I have followed your tales for some time and whilst I think much of what you write is an articulate comment on your lifestyle, every now and then an article like this comes along which makes you sound.....peevish.

Reading through this, the answer sounds pretty obvious - try hard to buy. Sure, the bank's demands on my wife and myself were onerous (given that Mrs Dara is from overseas, even more so in our case) but if this article is a true indicator of your feelings you seem to be assiduously avoiding the logical end-point.

Landlords may well be of a various standard, but what they have in common is that you are indeed living in THEIR investment. If that word, 'investment,' is where this always and everywhere bottoms out, the answer is to look to live in a home rather than an investment-cum-home.

I will not defend landlords - far from it. But you are clever enough to know the alternatives and you certainly are clever enough to know the deal. You say that what landlords fear is tennants - it promise you what they fear is the bank, not you. Why not cut out the middle-man?

The way to reign in rogue landlords is not to register them - just to give them no business. The bank may not be a great landlord, but they have no problem of any sort with mine or my wife's defiance or flamboyant nature. Or indeed the stain on the carpet.

But reading this, I get a feeling that deep, deep down you take the point.

Best of luck.

RenterGirl said...

Thanks for reading. It is heartfelt, not peevish. I have had some very bizarre experiences with landlords asking for guarantees beyond what is reasonable. I have no means of buying, truly. There are some advantages to renting, but they are minor, but I try and hold on to that, but my security and sense of ease should be down to luck. Life is weighted towards the needs of landlords, and occasionally tenants are treated like pests.

And Nearly Legal - I am collecting these stories. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

This makes me realise how lucky I am to have such a great landlord. A landlord who shrugged when terrified, I showed him my son's drawings on the wall: "Oh well, nothing that a lick of paint won't cover." A landlord who sent round a local handyman within 20 minutes of me reporting a problem. A landlord who fits a Smeg oven!

Dara should remember that many people can't afford a deposit on a property, let alone get a mortgage. How I wish we could all afford to buy!

RenterGirl said...

I does annoy me a little when people say 'just buy.' MST is right: there's a whole host of barriers to becoming a home-owner.

Shoe said...

I think you've hit the nail on the head here and Dara's comments and those that follow to me explain why exactly the situation as you describe is at it is. For a start tenants are people yes, people with housing needs. The only difference between your average recent home owner and a private tenant is just one thing: capacity to put down a deposit and secure a mortgage.

Now I don't come from a wealthy background, or even a modestly comfortable one, but a lot of the older generation did rather well out of soaring house prices and as a result the vast, vast majority of my friends who own their own places falls into one of two categories: one, those who scrapped on their own backs to put down desposits or get mortgages, and the second, those who Mummy and Doddy granted a desposit to, guaranteed the a loan, and additionally allowed them to live at home for years without having to pay any keep, thus facilitating the ability to save enough to cough up for a deposit. I have numerous friends in category one who did things like dupe a credit union into loaning them their desposit, used money that should have gone to something else, and many of them are living in very tough circumstances now. Of the second group, since Mummy and Daddy also routinely bought appliances, furniture, repainted, maintained, and even pay off the odd bill (I know SEVERAL people whose parents have paid off car loans, utility bills, etc for 30-something offsprings) well most of them are feeling the pinch but not really suffering. The point I am trying to make is that very few first time buyers over the last few years bought without really straining themselves or getting considerable help from somewhere.

The fact I'm trying to make here is perhaps the reason that the "perfect" tenant doesn't exist is becuse by their nature, aside from a few true masochists, most tenants are just people on modest (not vast) incomes who cannot afford to buy. And as a result they will not be able to routinely fork out for extras but are dependent on landlords for their comfort. Something I persistently see in the UK property-porn TV is the concept that private tenants are somehow a wealthy bunch of free and easy swinging people. The reality where I live is that 30-50 per cent have no income other than welfare, and about 2/3 of the remainder are people on very modest incomes for whom it is their only choice.

I think the removal of council housing as an option for people on moderate incomes has forced people into either premature home buying or long term private renting with little choice. The days of the sophisticated tenant who can make money grow on trees is ludicruously anachronistic.

Also I do think there is a blatant vicious circle in the whole uncontrolled market rented sector - by raising rents private landlords might raise profits in the short term, but ultimately rush up the cost of purchasing which hits them long term. This kind of myopic short termism is what has destroyed the industry.

Having said that, I do think licencing landlords would be a good idea. I mean in order to be a taxi driver you have to meet certain standards and make certain committments so why not landlords?

RenterGirl said...

I wonder if when I post I should, in the style of Nana Mouskouri say: 'this is a little piece inspired by..' Here it was some awful phrases people had googled to find this blog, like I hate my tenants, how do I get rid of my tenants, etc etc etc. And some emails about truly unreasonable 'problems,' like marks on painted walls. You do that when moving in and out. It's unavoidable for corporeal beings to brush furniture and belongings against walls. Thanks for reading!

Dara said...

Shoe - some entirely reasonable points, but what is this obsession with social housing? I have long had a suspicion that these people who hanker form more social housing are people who never experienced living in it. Great in theory, in reality - dire.

It is not all about some profit driven obsession or 'holistic' life, that is a very limited reading of housing. Many people who live in social housing say they would like a place of their own. It's about security, a sense of personal privacy away from the influence of another, be it a private landlord or a council housing department. I never understand why some peole don't get this.

Social housing is not the answer at all - it is in cheap housing, lots of it. And that will mean facing down the interest groups. The faintly romanticised, holier-than-though vision of renting that RenterGirl sometimes (perhaps unwittingly) serves up is not the answer either.

Incidentally myshittytwenties, Myself and Mrs Dara were both in ourshittythirties when we bought. We rented and saved for years - far longer than my parents. Dara is well aware that some can not buy - what I get at is that articles like this rather miss the point.

Best of luck

RenterGirl said...

Dara: what point are we missing? That we should all buy? Holier than thou renting? No: I say we pay rent - we should get equitable service and repairs, and perhaps not be undermined by six months tenancies with renewal if we are good little renters. If we could afford to buy, perhaps we would. Perhaps not. But no matter what - we shouldn't be harrassed, and undermined, and treated like, well scum. The case Nearly Legal mention in their post involves a tenant actually being killed because of landlord laziness. Would they be alive of they had stopped whining, saved up and purchased a home? Extreme perhaps, but the amount of emails and comments about no repairs, assaults, harrassment and ill-treatment say the bad is quite common.

Anonymous said...

I would love to buy a home for my son and I, but as a lone parent I simply can't afford it, no matter how hard I work.

la glitz said...

Dara - RenterGirl is right. Tenants are paying for a service, and should enjoy the same rights to privacy, safety, cleanliness and quiet as home owners. If a property is an investment for landlords, they should be prepared to invest in it - which includes painting it regularly, mending and updating appliances, and appointing proper property managers. It can't be the case that tenants should have to put up with a lower quality of life just because they have chosen not to buy, or can't buy - this is the whole point of this blog! And yes, some people living in social housing want out - but it serves a very useful function for others.

Obsidian said...

I think you're missing the real issue, which is the lack of responsibility.

People want rights, they want respect, they frequently don't want the attendant responsibilities.

Licencing is one way that could help with that, but I doubt that'd stop the real bastards out there.

Plus you have to be careful of the law of unintended consequences - the attempts to stop the likes of Peter Rachman in the 60's with the Rent Act removed a vast swathe of privately rented housing.

We're seeing something similar now with landlords increasingly refusing to deal with people on benefits, due to the boneheaded idea to pay rent to the tenants rather than direct to landlords. A lot of tenants are just spending the rent on other things! Who could've guessed...

Dara said...

La Glitz - Agree with this: 'Tenants are paying for a service, and should enjoy the same rights to privacy, safety, cleanliness and quiet as home owners.'

This however.... 'If a property is an investment for landlords, they should be prepared to invest in it - which includes painting it regularly, mending and updating appliances, and appointing proper property managers.'

The important word there is SHOULD. I agree that they should be, but the point is it is their investment to treat as they like within the law. I have a leasehold and I am compelled by the terms of the lease every eight years to redecorate the place. I'd be more convinced by an argument that leases should be much, much longer and secure rather than many rents now tend to be. But the point to my mind is that what you are talking about is a PRIVATE let, not one on the renter's terms.

RenterGirl - 'what point are we missing?' I'm not disagreeing with you, largely.

My point is that, to my mind at least, what is described on this site very often is a failing market. That is, one where renters are compelled by circumstance to take lets they feel are not to the standard they demand. That is, supply is not meeting demand. And this is before we consider whether the price of rents bears any relation to the conditions we would expect in a well functioning market.

My point is that tinkering at the edges with regulation and asking landlords to be nice will not cut the mustard. We don't need to ask landlords to be nice - we need to cut the legs from under them with far more cheap housing.

La Glitz says, 'It can't be the case that tenants should have to put up with a lower quality of life just because they have chosen not to buy, or can't buy.' Isn't one of the points of this site that the reality is that tennants are having to put up with a lower standard - whatever the rights and wrongs?

Anyway - I have put far too many words on here and I will leave the last word to others. Best of luck.

RenterGirl said...

Dara your comments are interesting, and I see what you mean. But...when houses were cheaper to buy, did everyone buy immediately? They still had to save, and deposits these days are huge (although the return of the 120% mortgage has been spotted.) At some point, tenants will be renting while saving.

Obsidian - people are spending LHA because even when they have learning difficulties, people are paid directly, to foster a sense of financial responsibility. Another example of the law of unintended consequences, or pious lesson-teaching. A culture drift, where landlords resent their tenants and the obligations owners incur must change.
Thanks for reading.

la glitz said...

Dara - interesting points. I think what you're saying is that the reality of the situation is a failing private market. My point is that, as dozens of other countries show, the current structure of the UK's private rental market is not the only option available. You say I'd be more convinced by an argument that leases should be much, much longer and secure rather than many rents now tend to be, and I - and RenterGirl, I think - entirely agree. The problems with the UK rental market are structural as well as superficial. Longer lets, better-designed properties, regulation of rogue landlords - all of these are needed. And if they were in place, then fewer people would bankrupt themselves on 125% mortgages that they can't afford.

RenterGirl said...

Buying is great if you can afford it, but when you can't I think we all agree, tenants should be treated right.