In the olden days, Rent Officers gave courage to tenants across the land.
I once used their services. I lived in a massive student house (I wasn’t a student) where rent was slightly higher than normal, and the landlord was something of an arsehole: things leaked, or were broken. He’d turn up with his vile, shrewish wife, and instead of arranging for a repair, would berate us all for the mere fact of our existence since decent people like him were paying for our education didn’t we know? Then he’d leave a ‘top of the range’ mop as if it was gold-plated, before stomping imperiously out, slamming the door. Every time he did so, plaster fell from the ceiling like confetti.
After a few months, and to our amazement, he tried to raise the rent: nice try. We summoned the Rent Officers, who were unimpressed with (deep breath…): the permanently blocked windswept downstairs loo (aka ‘second bathroom’) the fact that snow came through the broken window onto my face as I slept, and the padlocked fire escape. We’d accepted the slightly higher rent as improvements had been promised (it was going to be lovely and top-notch - I was younger then, and more naïve) but soon we realised that everything was going to remain leaking and broken. Rebellion brewed.
A few weeks later, the landlord and his missus (both by now levitating with a searing, bitter rage) arrived. The Rent Officers had forbidden their price hike: they’d actually been ordered to cut the cost and were not best pleased. It didn’t matter that ours was now officially a ‘fair rent.’ They were both furious, but then so was I: as they stabbed the air in my direction with nasty gnarled fingers (contorted from grasping cash, I’d imagine) I broke the news that they couldn’t simply do what they wanted.
They owned a chain of houses; I knew some of the other tenants, and on learning of our result, they too called in rent officers. None of us wanted to ruin lives, but the fact that our landlord was so snide in his outright refusal to do any repairs whatsoever at all, and that fact that we had means of exacting – if not revenge, then payback - was heartening. No longer were we powerless, prey to the whims of a bully who simply wanted to squeeze every last penny from us and would rather let his own investment rot and collapse than ‘pamper’ us (his very words) with prompt repairs.
Why am I writing this post? Because lately, I been so depressed about the state of housing under this Con-Dem coup-d’etat that I wondered if there’s any point in writing this blog. Housing Benefit is now deemed an evil, and regulation even of rogue landlords is a distant dream. All our rights have been slowly stripped away, and private landlords are expected to house the masses and seem to have been granted the right to do whatever the hell they want.
Seriously – is there any point in writing this anymore?