Recently, a deceptively simple comment from a friend living in Los Angeles revealed all that is wrong with renting in the UK. She replied to a rentergirl posting with the words: “So after all this time, I finally realize you don't have rent control. Don't kill me. Here, renters have rights that would be a paradise compared to everything you describe. You can't even throw someone out for not paying. You have to be very careful when renting out here.”
That’s right, to my totally dumbfounded, jaw-gapes-to-breaking-point astonishment, tenants in the USA (at least in California) have more rights than over here. How the hell did that happen?
W is about to let a room in her home, and as a prospective landlady is concerned that renting there has shifted too far in favour of the (admittedly rare) but more devious sort of tenant. A keen fan of Judge Judy, she watches cases bought to arbitration where even toxic lodgers haunt the property forevermore. Even repossession due to non payment of rent is fraught with legal constraints, to the extent that occasionally landlords pay bad tenants to leave and write them a glowing reference, just to see the back of them.
How different from the UK, where all that’s needed is a coy whisper accompanied with a nuanced shrug, and renters are out – end of. Over here tenants must be demonstrably wealthy and then outline their ancient lineage in blood on parchment, before paying massive deposits in advance. Friends in New York say they always use the upfront deposit as the last week of rent, which means the time between tenancies is simpler, and deposits less likely to be withheld. If only....
Which brings me to rent control, enshrined by law in LA, but the stuff of legend over here. This mythical protection against overcharging used to exist way back in the olden days when knights were bold, but was legislated away by an evil dragon (aka Margaret Thatcher.) Landlords were prevented from charging over the odds for property, under a system where Rent Officers could be invited by tenants to assess a property’s rental worth.
Imagine if we still had fair rents, and all those amateur buy-to-let chancers had known that the only profit to be made comes from the slow increasing value of the property, and not from ramping up prices to ludicrous (ie Inside Track ‘Get Rich Quick You Deluded Fool’ Seminar) levels of stupid greed.
Oh, and as for repairs, if landlords don’t do them, then City Hall gets very angry indeed - not the feeble tut-tutting and finger wagging you meet over here - but massive fines for persistent non repairs.
So in LA, a place we imagine to be populated by silicon-based life-forms and loopy, macrobiotic rich people has created a system where it’s accepted that tenants stay for years, not weeks, and renters rights are both respected and enforced, whereas over here, I am treated like a termite. For tenants, renting is better in Lalaland. I also hear that it’s pleasantly sunny all the time.