Thursday, 18 November 2010

Oh, What's The Point?

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?


Stuart said...

Yes! When things are apparently going from bad to worse is when we need protesters the most. Please don't give up, for all our sakes!

Yin said...

as elton john would say: it's a sad sad situation.

On the note of rent officers, we recently called one in on our house. AND THEN the landlord gave in! Don't give up, you are the voice that we need! You gave me incredible advice in the past!


Anonymous said...

"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,"

It was an election.

When was housing benefit deemed evil?
I thought that had said people can not get more £21K pa in housing benefit.
More than enough to rent the average house unless the landlord is taking the mickey - which will be bad for rogue Landlords.

RenterGirl said...

No - it was a right wing coup. But thanks for trying to explain it - after all, I need to have things explained, what being so daft and all. And the way to control high rents is by controlling them, not by punishing the people with no choice but to pay them (and there is no choice.)

Neil80 said...

Yes RG, we need you now more than ever.

No doubt the Con-dem policies mean that people in the private rented sector face a tougher time and whatsmore the sector will no doubt expand.

These people need thwe voice that you've provided, here, in the Guardian and elsewhere.

Don't give up on your good work just when its needed most

Emma said...

Please don't give up. There isn't really anyone publicising the reality of renting from the tenant's point of view. I'm so tired of news stories that gleefully report rises in rents and the abusurdity of the current rental market - apparently getting potential tenants to place sealed bids on rental properties is now the next big thing. As tenants, we desperately need someone to tell our side of the story - please keep on telling people about the human cost of making housing such a 'profitable' commidity.

MattW said...

Agreed. Keep piling on the pressure, RG! And thank you.

MattW said...

I should probably add that housing is such a low priority in politics. Most MPs own properties and/or are landlords, thus they have an ulterior motive to keep house property prices and rents high, despite publicly agreeing that there is a housing crisis and then doing naff all about the problem.

The more social housing is built and the more people choose to live in these affordable rented homes, the less demand there would be on private sector housing. Which in turn would drive down rents and house prices.

RenterGirl said...

Thanks for the encouragement. The thing is that I write about this because it is affecting me personally, and at the moment, my housing situation is horrible, and complicated by some of the many things I've mentioned here: repairs, (in)security of tenure, rent levels, and landlords.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to have to agree that there is little point complaining about housing any more.

The Housing Act 1988 already weakened protection for tenants in private sector accommodation, to the extent that it is to all practical purposes impossible to obtain legal redress against landlords who abuse their position.

The recent announcement that new tenants in English social housing will no longer be granted permanent tenancies but only ones that last for two years, can only make an appalling situation even worse.

The lack of available housing for purchase or rent in the private sector means that tenants are now being forced to make offers of rent in sealed envelopes during "bidding wars."

The emergence of this practice alone is enough justification for the introduction of rent control laws in the United Kingdom.

I have lived in private rented accommodation for eleven years. During that time I have lived in damp and unhealthy conditions I have had a landlord who switched off the gas and electricity supplies for three weeks while they went away for Christmas to Spain, I have been subject to physical intimidation, and had one landlady who regularly telephoned the local housing benefit office (while I was not claiming any state benefits) to quote "let them know you are working."

I have come to the conclusion that there is no hope for individuals like myself and that the situation can only get worse.

Housing is a vital part of any persons life, without stability it is impossible to lay down roots, develop permanent relationships, or generally build a life. It is for this reason that with a very heavy heart I will be leaving the United Kingdom early in the New Year and going to live in France where tenants are protected by the rule of law and I will be looked at as a person and not a pension.

Anonymous said...

"No - it was a right wing coup. "
A coup is according to princeton
"coup d'etat: a sudden and decisive change of government illegally or by force "

Do you really think it was illegal?
"And the way to control high rents is by controlling them, not by punishing the people with no choice but to pay them (and there is no choice.)"
Well if the rents are not being subsidised then the landlord will find it a lot harder to find people who can pay them.

Do you think that it Labour had won and said that everyone in the UK can have up to £100k to rent a house, rents would have gone down, gone up or stayed the same?

Anonymous said...

In 1978 a film was released called "Powerplay."It was based on a book written by Edward Luttwak a Military Historian who is now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. The book was called Coup d'État: A Practical Handbook."

At the beginning of the book he describes a coup d'etat as:-

"A coup consists of the infiltration of a small, but critical, segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder", thus, armed force (either military or paramilitary) is NOT a defining feature of a coup d'état.

The current government is implementing policies that were not even discussed in the general election. In the case of the Liberal Democrats they are on record making specific pledges, and have now totally reneged on them.

This is strange as it was established by the Liberal Prime Minister Gladstone in the famous Midlothian Campaign that when a government does not have a mandate for a major policy change it must call a general election to put the policy to the people.

No mention was made during the general election of entering into a joint military system with the French, ending disability payments after 12 months for individuals even if the DWP own medical assessment considers them to be to ill to work and certainly no mention was made of the £350 million of cutbacks to the Legal Aid budget.

In addition to this the Tories and the Lib Dems are reducing the number of MP's from 650 to 600. The way it is being done will reduce the number of Labour MPs considerably making it much harder to change the government in the future.

In summary none of what the Tories and Liberal Democrats are doing was debated or even mentioned at the last election and they have no mandate to implement any of these policies, In addition neither the Tories or the Liberal Democrats had a majority in the House of Commons and the reason they are in coalition is because they did not have enough seats to form a government on their own.

There has been a coup d'etat in Britain by group of people who are pursuing policies they do not have a mandate to implement.

Under the British Constitution the Queen has the power to dissolve parliament and call a general election. It is now up to the public to carry out mass PEACEFUL demonstrations so that an election can be held to decide if these polices should be implemented or not.

RenterGirl said...

I didn't have time to extensively define the phrase coup d'etat, but thanks for those who did. But also - have the none of the gripers heard of irony? (PS it is a coup.)

Anonymous said...

"The current government is implementing policies that were not even discussed in the general election. In the case of the Liberal Democrats they are on record making specific pledges, and have now totally reneged on them."
As did Labour in 1997 (tutition fees again) was that a coup?

"But also - have the none of the gripers heard of irony?"
That explains a lot.
Was this also ironic
"And they did spake unto the people exiled as ‘scroungers’ punished them with a budget that put a cap on the rent allowance: £240 a week for a one bed flat – even in London (really! I am being serious, I am not making that part up.)"
For 240 you can get quite a nice 2 bed room flat in Catford.

You weren't really serious when you said that was a bad idea - it all makes sense now.

Anonymous said...

Keep blogging. Actually, blog more.

I agree with many of the sentiments expressed above regarding the Con-dem government and your blog is essentially a source of evidence of the deprivations faced by ordinary folk when landlords... well, you know what I mean.

The students will make noise about their degrees, private renters need to start making themselves heard too.

Sven said...

It is certainly true that living in appalling conditions is soul destroying. Doubly so when changing it is out of your power. But I want you to know that I've learnt a lot reading your blog, and I'm sure others have to. If you're experiencing burn-out and need to back away then thats fine, but don't do it because you think its not worthwhile.

Anonymous said...

Please keep blogging

Anonymous said...

I've only just found your blog. Yes, it's worth it to keep going. Even though yes, it also seems hopeless. Housing is the biggest problem by far facing this country, as well as the misery it causes in itself so many other big problems are directly caused or exacerbated by it and yet that connection is never made in a media dominated by owners who are doing very well out of it all. But we need to keep speaking out and every voice is vital. I believe that there are *so many* people now feeling shut out of all hope of ever being able to build a stable life and instead being turned into something one step up from a hobo that there has to come a point when we reach a critical mass and change has to happen.

And I think one of the most important things this kind of writing can do is reiterate to people that it's not just them and it is not their personal failure that leaves them in this situation. It is a failure of policy over decades and we need to stand together against it.

RenterGirl said...

Thanks for all your kind comments. I am thoroughly disheartened by the attitude of those who do not rent, or who have a happy experience, as they can't imagine that things are as bad as I (we) think. There will be marches about student fees. But nobody cares about Housing Benefit cuts, or the lack of security when renting, etc. etc.

mmp said...

Yes there is point in writing.....shed loads of people live in blissful ignorance of the common facts and they need to be woken up

Continuing writing will hopefully shake us who read out of our complacency and into action

Don’t you dare stop!

RJ said...

I second the comment that your blog shows people they're not alone. And that we're right to get vocal.

I went into private renting - willingly - after happy periods as a homeowner then council tenant. What struck me - and continues to astonish - is the sheer, unmanageable incompetence of private LLs and LAs. I began to think 'Is it just me? Surely this can't be happening?' Sadly it is, but your blog in the past has put fire in my belly and forced me to challenge things when I didn't think there was much point. Thank you.