Thursday, 25 August 2011

A Tale Of Two Flats

Two friends live in very different flats, where the owners employ opposing philosophies with regard to managing their nest egg.

The first place is an ancient, purpose built block in an area that’s down on its luck. The flat itself is beautiful, featuring everything that renders estate agents boggle-eyed with joy: plaster mouldings intact (get me with my fluent estate-agentese) large rooms with high ceilings, views of a nearby park (I’m turning into one of them) original solid wood floor (give me a job?) and spacious hallway (somebody stop me...)

The rent is very reasonable. Why? Over the years, the owners have neglected this amazing property. Windows are mercifully original not UPVC horrors, but the grand and frigid lounge is deserted in Winter, with occupants huddling in bed to keep warm.

Worst though is the bathroom. There’s a hole in the floor, and I don’t mean a dent, but a gaping pothole in the floorboards, next to the bath, where years of ignored leakage caused the chipboard to rot. One tenant is a gifted carpenter, and offered to mend it in return for a month rent free, but the landlord hesitates, saying he needs the income.

They might benefit from stressing that the aforementioned hole is dangerous, because when the residents fall into the flat below and end up in casualty, he’ll be sued so bad he won’t know where to run. Elsewhere the building isn’t dangerous, but doors are falling off cupboards, furniture is broken/inadequate/missing, and there are no curtains. The landlord didn’t even provide a hoover, but at least he’s a friendly, easy-going guy who arrives with beer, despite avoiding repairs wherever possible.

The other flat is also cheaper than you’d think, but for different reasons. The owner believes that if rent is set slightly below market levels, tenants are more likely to stay, thereby avoiding the dreaded voids in occupancy, and so she’ll gain in the long term. It’s draught proofed, subtly renovated but not destroyed, and still has all its original features.

The owner replaces the mattress every now and again, has provided a dish-washer, pays for the upkeep of the communal garden, and does repairs fast, because as she might need to live there herself one day. Tellingly, her kids rent in a another town, and so she treats her own tenants as she would wish her offspring to be treated: fairly, courteously and lawfully.

What I don’t understand is this: property is an investment. If you earned money from a building, wouldn’t you care for it? Both ways of working are entirely legal (except leaving that massive hole in the floor.) Little can be done about the draining neglect of landlords who fail to maintain their investment, causing misery, or harm to tenants.

Nobody cares to enforce what laws do exist, even when landlords are brutish thugs who terrorise tenants, cramming them into rooms which are blighted by damp, cockroaches, freezing draughts and mould. Meanwhile, low-level, debilitating conditions which drain mental and physical health must battle to sound important. Important is exactly what they are.


Fred Smith said...

I had a flat which was in between the two you mentioned. The landlady wasn't completely detatched but there were definitely things which were semi lethal (never put bathroom wall tiles on external concrete steps, slippery is not the word).

The flat wasn't over priced so we just sorted out some of the things which needed doing. Over the two years we were there it paid dividends because we had a nicer flat and the landlady appreciated it.

The leathal steps are still there though - and it probably helps that we were both engineers...

RenterGirl said...

The idea that tenants are now responsible for repairs drives me nuts. What if you have no DIY skills? Things like those steps are a sneaky hazard...

Fred Smith said...

That's true, but at the moment landlords get away with anything and renters have to make the best of it. It's not right & isn't fair, especially for the most vulnerable.

It even extends to the legal obligations: When did you last see a gas safety certificate which was up to date? Most people don't even realise they're meant to have an EPC. My last landlord didn't know about putting our deposit in a scheme - if he'd got difficult we could have taken him to court for thousands of pounds (open and shut case if wasn't in a scheme), but actually he was just an old man who didn't have a clue.

Did the well known high street agent do anything to make sure the flat was safe and legal - of course not, they never do. No other profession could get away with that kind of behaviour...

Ben Reeve-Lewis said...

The first landlord is under a statutory duty to do most of those repairs, section 11 Landlord and Tenant Act means tenant could sue now.

Second landlady sounds great. I read about a student accommmodation agency, in Nottingham I think, where all the staff are employed on the basis of having kids in Uni so the staff have more insight and empathy with their tenants and landlords

Anonymous said...

Just found your blog Penny, I can totally empathise with all your experiences.. I can't comment more right now as it will open up a flood of emotions that I am trying to suppress in order to carry on with everyday life!!! And working up the enthusiasm to call about a couple of unprepossessing properties. And hearing the extent of the fees.. can be as much as £400 for a couple these days. Not found an agent charging less than £290. Ouch

Suffice to say we are currently camping in a tent full time whilst house hunting.. Hubby & I are disadvantaged by illness and self employment (Cameron shoud love us though for being the enterprsing carrying on in the face of adversity types though?), both of which make getting a place VERY hard. And trying like mad to avoid taking a damp property.. can you believe a tent is less damp than our last house? even in this rain.. ho hum.. I'll keep reading this blog now I've found it :o)

An idea - perhaps law could require that all properties are advertised with 2 or 3 agents? Might encourage some competition on fees? Better still community/ charity based agents but where do we find the time to volunteer for this if we are working? Perhaps Shelter can form an offshoot.. seeing as they have the infrastructure and knowledge?

My heart goes out to all the tenants having troubles. It can be truly miserable.

Anyway, count me as another to join the campaign! Something MUST be done!!!

M (anon for now as no account! for this kinda thing)

Anonymous said...

Just to add to the unfair conditions placed on tenants.. I found this on an ad on a well-known national house search website...

"Tenants are required to have adequate insurance for their contents and accidental damage to the landlords property, contents, fixtures and fittings. This will be arranged by Green & Co at tenants expense unless they can demonstrate that they have equivalent or better cover before the start of the tenancy."

How outrageous! If I choose to pay for contents insurance that is surely my decision? And of course adding the cost of acidental damage can be very expensive. In the past I've never found a policy for less than £70 a year and only osmetimes does it include fixtures and fittings as standard. But if I dont have anything worth insuring surely that is my choice?!!!

Argh! This must amount to an unfair contract?

Oh and this too...

"In the event of a new Tenancy Agreement being prepared to cover a further extension of the initial period, a further £90.00, including VAT, will be payable as a contribution towards the cost of the new Agreements."

M (anon still)

RenterGirl said...

There's plenty of cause for a campaign, but no energy, realistic prospect of legislation. Tenants get so worn out they move rather than sue.

Ben Reeve-Lewis said...

Anonymous? Check this link about Green & Co

6 Of their agents got fined for a scam using empty properties to get parking permits so they wouldnt have to pay.

It is indeed a landlord's market at the moment. Our agents took the best part of £400 off of us for admin and once we had signed on the dotted line it was as if we didnt exist. We had 3 or 4 questions about the tenancy agreement that we wanted clarifying and each time we asked them to check with our landlord we didnt hear a thing back, despite chase up calls. In the end we gave in.

One of the staff was quite helpful but the manager was the most arrogant, loathsome character I have had the misfortune to meet.

ARLA? NALS? RLA? My arse

RenterGirl said...

Oh - and the tenants charging for renewal: let it roll over? I think (think! - anyone out there confirm this?) that it means the original agreement is sustained. It bloody well should be!

Ben Reeve-Lewis said...

Yeah, once the fixed term has ended you automatically become was is called a 'Statutory Periodic Tenant'. All rights and duties still continue, its just that neither party is bound by a fixed term.

Landlord or tenant can serve notice at any time.

£90 for a new aagreement? A pack of 4 from Oyez is £9.99, so £80 just to add a signtaure. But thats not too bad actually £150 is not uusual and some agents charge the landlord too, netting a cool £300

Anonymous said...

Am soooo feeling the worn out Penny.

Its very tough to keep on being so resilient. That you've written about the situation for so long shows how endemic the problems are. Its no wonder you stopped blogging for a while.

Thanks for the info Ben. Terrible to hear the lengths they go to but I don't suppose any of us are surprised. :o( Turns out though its a different company.. Connected only in their dodginess!

We've looked at moving up north.. is illegal to charge fees to tenants in Scotland and in Yorkshire area for e.g many agents still only want character references! Sometimes I really hate living in the greedy and grasping South/ South east. We're trying to relocate..

Requiring contents insurance IS considered an unfair term by the OFT. I've contacted Rightmove to ask that they take action against the adverts that contain obviously unfair terms. I dont suppose they will want to get involved but I suggested they shouldn't be propagating misleading and illegal information.

We normally go for 6 month terms and then to a roll on month by month as you say Penny. Means we aren't stuck for too long if the landlord/ agent are "unhelpful" and then keeps them on their toes (we hope) after. Doesn't do much for one's sense of security though. And it doesn't work that way if you have paid for a fixed term up front I don't think..? When we've asked about it, that's the reply we've got... can't remember the legal ins and outs right now!



RenterGirl said...

Agency still charge fees in Scotland, even though it's illegal, and they are quite open about it. Agents usually hand responsibility right back to landlord when it comes to repairs, so management fees make me wonder.