Sunday, 25 March 2012

Blame Game of Name and Shame

Revenge is a sweet dish best eaten cold by a furious woman, or something. Actually, revenge is generally a waste of time. I prefer the following dictum: ‘If you wait long enough by the river - the body of your enemy will float by.’ I mention this as I’ve had a few readers asking me what I think about those ‘shame a landlord’ websites. You might be surprised, but I don’t like them at all.

When faced with a landlord who is unrelentingly, wilfully obstructive, lazy and vile, it’s tempting to detail those faults vividly online. Many landlords resent their tenants and don’t appreciate the enormity of their responsibility, choosing to evict in retaliation rather than paying up or doing the work.

Owners buy property, and cannot/will not let go of two ideas. First that tenant must subsidise business costs in their entirety including many tangential charges. Secondly that tenants should be neither seen nor heard: even reasonable requests for serious repairs are therefore viewed as a nuisance, by which I mean adequate grounds for lofty non-renewal of tenancies.

Landlords need training and advice, after which, if they still don’t comply with the law or reasonable requests, official sanctions should apply, not the potentially libellous bile of a tenant who’s already been thrown out making unsubstantiated comments and naming their overlord.

Tenants might bad-mouth a busy, or distracted landlord who doesn’t mean to be unhelpful but can’t immediately beam himself into their flat to oil a sticky kitchen drawer. It’s true that legal sanctions against landlords are inefficient, and that swift, severe punishment is needed, fast. But I just can’t see how unsubstantiated bleating can improve anything, especially where property is in short supply and landlords will simply blame the tenant (‘it was self-defence, not unprovoked violence.’)

This is a symptom of devastating problems afflicting the private rented sector: parties cannot meet on neutral ground to discuss any problems, and conciliation or conflict resolution services do not seem to exist. Nobody in power has a clear idea of what to do, preferring to print the legend that most tenants are happy.

Criminally bad (see posts below) landlords should face prison. If they don’t know how to run the business of property management, then someone should provide training and issue certificates to show they have undergone this education, so they cannot plead ignorance.

But don’t post venom on a website: it might be intrusive to families, and don’t forget that owners might be equally appalled that what they believed was a nest egg for their retirement is a dilapidated newbuild hell-hole.

But with extremely bad examples, call your council’s Tenancy Relations Officer, the police (if landlords are violent and make threats) or Shelter. Don’t place unsubstantiated comments online: they undermine what is the beginning of a very long struggle to strengthen tenants rights eg by outlawing retaliatory evictions and extending long-term tenancies, allowing for decorating rights etc.

Being nasty anonymously online helps nobody. I believe that a truly bad landlord should face losing their property, just as bad tenants lose their home, with owners forever banned from letting property. Simple. Effective. Let’s do this.


RenterGirl said...

Yep: still can't get links up. Sorry.

HLW said...

We've just had horrendous landlord problems. Our old flat was flooded for over a month and we were left without a working toilet for a significant period of time. The tenants below us had our flood leaking through their ceiling as well.
Our landlords would not fix the problem, denied we had ever reported it and then threatened to claim against us for causing the flooding.
Luckily we have the backing of environmental health and know where to get legal advice and help. Our downstairs neighbours,did not know what to do except to continue phoning the landlords daily about the problem.
However, it is so tempting to badmouth the agents online. We have lost a lot of money and have had to throw out mouldy, damp possessions.
We tried to resolve things peacefully, but when the landlord fails to act, then all the options are adversarial. There's already been a game of ping-pong through environmental health and we face similar with the deposit protection company and with pursuing our landlord through the small claims court (we are due rent back for the period of time our rental was uninhabitable).
There really needs to be someone like ACAS, who can provide mediation before court orders and other agencies need to get involved.
I don't doubt if our landlords had been encouraged to sort things out properly in the first place and that we didn't have to resort to the nuclear option to find a solution...then both of parties would have been saved a lot of stress, expense and inconvenience.

SteveM said...

Personally, I don't understand why anyone would even want to become a landlord: it seems like pretty much the worst way of trying to make money I can think of.

RenterGirl said...

HLW: the whole relationship is adversarial, and it's a nightmare. Steve: it used to be accepted that profit was amassed over decades, not on weekly rent.

Ben Reeve-Lewis said...

I'm not a fan of those slag a landlrod sites either. As one of those Tenancy Relations Officers you mention I obviously have to deal with the worst criminal landlords and I agree that I think their homes should be confiscated. There is even the legislation to do it, the Proceeds of Crime Act.

But the thing is, many many complaints I receive from tenants turn out not to hold any water and otherwise decent landlords can get a terrible reputation for no reason.

I'm on the steering committee of the London Landlords Accreditation Scheme and we have a landlrod database, where names, address, offences, fines, even judge's comments are stored. Loaded up by prosecution officer like me and environmental Health and Trading standards teams. This is being extended at the moment and as I understand it will be widely available so you can check out a landlrod before renting from them.

But they can only be put on the list when action has been taken and until we get the judiciary to take harassment and illegal eviction seriously and the Police to understand that it is a criminal offence and stop actually helping landlords to illegal evict people the list will be very slow in building.

RenterGirl said...

Ben- I agree with all that. The really bad cases probably don't care about their reputation, and might be taking tenents who are unable to be discerning.

Ben Reeve-Lewis said...

Yes its a big thing to change and tenant discrenment is one of the biggies. Too many tenants accept bad practice as the norm because they see it so often.

I and several like me are really leaning towards tenant and landlord education as the way to change the PRS. I estimate that if tenants and buy to let landlords, who form the bulk of the law breaking, not because of any wilfullness, they are just so clueless they dont even know the laws are there; my workload would drop at least 50%, freeing up time for me to go after the criminals and get them onto our list so wised up tenants would know who to avoid.

One idea I am pushing with my employers at the moment is to create a fund out of money we get in penalties from criminal landlords and use it to fund intiatives to help out good landlords and tenants. This way decent landlords see that the council is not using them in the form of licences, to pay for the criminals. With the added knock of effect that they will trust who we are and help professionalise the PRS

RenterGirl said...

It's true. The police often assist in illegal evictions 'it's his house' and most tenants would rather move, as having as thug hammering on your down is scary. And yes, tenants often don't understand that organising a repair, even if the landlords lives next door can take a while: getting estimates, avoiding cowboy builders etc.