Thursday, 3 May 2012

Accursed Short-Term Travesties

Renting is certainly in the news, what with some tenants in London seemingly being shipped out to areas where there are empty houses but no jobs. Elsewhere, Shelter launched a campaign about rogue landlords – a nightmare, but a minority.

It makes me want to scream. Here’s what really makes renting a thoroughly miserable experience for the vast majority: those damned, made specially in hell to torment us, Assured (accursed) short- term Travesties (tenancies.) AST’s cause the worst part of renting, the overwhelming, crippling uncertainty endured by every tenant.

Here’s another story emailed by a reader. He’s freelance, occasionally ‘between jobs’ (ie unemployed) and partially disabled (not enough for ESA). He managed to find a room in shared house, and was happy until out of the blue, a Notice To Quite arrived. No reason was given, despite requests. That’s perfectly legal: the contract was rolling, and landlords can issue notice without explanation.

But here’s the problem: how’s he going to find a home? His previous guarantor was his co-tenant’s mother: both are moving abroad, so that’s no longer an option. And so I ask this question: where do people go, when they have nowhere to go?

Housing Association? He’s on several lists, but all are long enough to reach the moon, and he’s hardly a priority. Furthermore, he has no furniture, which is an issue with no Budgeting Loans in the near future (and you can’t get everything on freecycle).

His plan? He’s been advised to wait until the actual day of his notice, and declare himself homeless, for all the good that will do. If he’s lucky he will be given a room in a B&B (which if in work, he’ll have to pay for…)

The assumption that long-term rental agreements, or a culture of longevity are bad, persists, even when the landlords treat the homes they condescend to let as fiefdoms and issue retaliatory evictions for imagined slights. Neither of the two main political parties (Condems and Labour) care about renting, and both decry regulation of agents and landlords, let alone much needed rent controls.

The first four months of a tenancy are a heavenly holiday, because residents have security. After that luxury, they must be ready to move on a whim, with just two months grace. My correspondent said: ‘I loved that flat. It was just right for me. I could afford to live there, and with Housing Benefit cuts, I could even stay when I had no work and needed to claim.’

Landlords must treat the homes they let out as businesses. Rented houses should come with a commitment to rent them for years, maybe decades. There must be a mechanism for proving that a house ‘needed for a relative’ (a common excuse for repossession and retaliatory evictions) really is assigned to a relation. The presumption should be that tenants will stay for as long they want, not for as long as the landlords deigns to see fit.

Final word then, to my correspondent. ‘I really wanted to stay. Now I’ve got nowhere.’ He is not alone in his predicament.


space cadet said...

Awful, just awful. Could he consider writing a begging letter to his landlord? Cos I think half the landlords out there have no real idea what stresses and anxiety they are subjecting us to. And this sounds like the only straw he has left?

RenterGirl said...

It is awful. people often email in desperation, and I rarely find out what happens. If I do, I'll let you know. but I doubt that contacting the landlord will have an effect: the point is that owners sort of enjoy their power. And the rent will rise. I intend to write more about the working homeless: some are even roofless and working. the renting situation in the UK is broken, and the current housing minister is an idiot.

Alex said...

When Brian Coleman was in this situation, he got Barnet Methodist church to rent him a subsidised flat. They expected him to move out when his circumstances changed, but didn't include a break clause in the agreement he signed...and he's still there now.