Monday, 6 August 2012

Ask Aunty Rentergirl

Over the past year or so, I have noticed something both flattering and disturbing. Readers are beginning to email me requesting advice about certain delicate problems and dilemmas. I don’t mean shy queries about erectile disfunction, etiquette clarification or whether they should marry, but help with various housing difficulties.

I like it when readers share their stories: it proves that I am not alone in finding renting to be, generally, truly awful. But I am not a lawyer - not a trained housing professional. I can only offer what I have learned, underlined by a prominent disclaimer that I am not an expert, not am I a qualified, trained advisor.

Recently, I was consulted by an acquaintance. His girlfriend was being bullied by her ex-landlady, a grasping vicious rentier who sounds truly horrible (even the letting agents agreed.) Despite having scoured the flat before vacating, this tenant was presented with a bill for cleaning. The brass-necked landlady included costs for her own efforts, then added charges for the professional cleaner she was obliged to hire because the place was supposedly so filthy.

Fortunately my friend had taken pictures, keen to challenge the landlady, whose bill (completely by coincidence, of course) came to virtually the same amount as her deposit. I advised her to check if, and where, her deposit was protected, and then use the dispute service.

This tenant backed down, thoroughly intimidated. That’s what agents and landlords rely on: renters feel threatened by the idea of challenging their overlord, especially in court which they imagine is governed by a thundering aristocrat in a white wig, not umpired by am approachable, reasonable person keen to make the process accessible.

Elsewhere, the tenant I have written about in the post below now wishes to relocate – or rather, knows she cannot stay forever, as she is homeless (albeit not roofless) and can’t sublet a room in that nurses home forever. My advice was to tell the truth: that she is subletting casually and temporarily, before seeking a reasonable landlord online who might appreciate a good tenant, albeit one with precarious work security. I am convinced such a creature exists. Don’t they?

Which begs the question: where do tenants go for advice? Legal Aid is being effectively abolished, neighbourhood advice centres, the CAB (where my mixed experiences have been, shall we…’mixed’) and law centres have queues down the road. Council tenancy relations officers are snowed under. Sometimes people just want to be guided through their options, or are seeking reassurance.

While I’m flattered to be consulted, I worry about that many readers are harassed, bullied and given notice but have nowhere left to turn. I will always do my best, and occasionally find your emails upsetting (or with increasing rarity, amusing.)

Once again, it’s the low level misery of renting that proves the most destructive - not the minority, heinous, criminal ‘rogue’ landlords wrongfully evicting and assaulting tenants, but the slow erosion of security and the feeling that there is no help available. Private landlords count on this to avoid responsibilities. It’s horrible.


Anonymous said...

I may be somewhat biased (as i work for them) but if you qualify for legal help then please try calling community legal advice on 0845 345 43 45.

We're generally snowed under but will do what we can to help, where we can.

Anonymous said...

Always worth referring people to the Shelter helpline 0808 800 4444

RenterGirl said...

Both are good, and thanks for the numbers. Some people ask friends for help, and the friends say the usual stupidity: 'Why not move.' which makes me want to scream, or...tada: 'It's his house' of an errant landlord. But it's the nature of wanting support.

Ben Reeve Lewis said...

Most council's have housing advice teams somewhere in them. Often in the homelessness unit.

Not many councils have TROs these days but councils can still perform the TRO function of backing landlords off frm harassment and illegal eviction.

In the alternative, hire a hit man

Mary Latham said...

cI am a landlord (pause for gasps of horror) and I am proud to have been a good landlord for 40 years because I give my tenants the respect that they are entitled too and offer nice. safe. clean homes to people. I do, however, acknowledge that not all landlords do a good job - often out of ignorance rather than malice, though this is not a excuss they should know their jobs.

I am pleased that Rentgirl is able to give her time and knowledge to help those tenants who are struggling with their landlords but I would like to point you to another site where tenants are given help, information and advice, usually from good landlords,and where they don't need to identify themselves.

I have worked very hard for 25 years to get landlords up to speed and make them aware that they have not chosen to sell shoes in a market they have chosen to offer homes to people and that this is, arguably, one of the most important jobs a person can do and that it is not an option to get it wrong because of the misery our mistakes can cause.

This is the link to the site where tenants can go for help

Dazzla said...

Hi all.

Really sorry to post what might be a trivial question, but I'll be looking to rent again soon and desperately want to avoid letting agencies. I've been looking at but there's not much on there in the area I'm looking in and obviously google searches are no good because agencies have SEOed the crap out of it.

Has anyone got any tips for a good agent-free service that isn't too riddled with spammers and scammers?


RenterGirl said...

Dazzla, your question is far from trivial. I wish I had the answer, as this a time of transition: there are some start up sites, like Rentlord, which are 'dating agencies' for landlords and tenants. Try also local papers. And....(noooo!) g***tree. I know. But if you carefully weed out the spammers/con artists, and place an ad, it might just work. Be careful out there, and email the results of your quest. Good luck!

RenterGirl said...

And Ben - you solution is extreme, but I suspect that any court will allow the ancient: 'but it was lettign agent' defence.

space cadet said...

Take to the streets with a megaphone? I am seriously considering it.

space cadet said...

Actually Dazzla, you could try house-sitting? if you don't mind pets. That's where the market is apparently.

Dazzla said...

Rentlord? Was that the best name they thought of?

I could try house-sitting (I love dogs and cats) but I'm not necessarily going to be there every weekend.

Thanks for your help everyone. Looks like I might get away with moving to Leeds rather than London, which I'd much prefer.

Anonymous said...

Hi Renter Girl,

Pleased to discover your blog, though not to learn of your experiences.

Free trusted advice is available via the CAB from the Citizens Advice website:

You said you have mixed experiences at your CAB. I know as I work in one that they are often short of reliable volunteers so any readers who have a spare day in their week should get in contact. No qualifications or experience needed. It can take nearly two years for volunteers to develop and to be really effective; which is needed to help in complicated housing matters. Sadly many don't stay this long. At the Bureau where I work we are fortunate to have paid specialist housing advisers but with legal aid reforms etc we will become increasingly relying on volunteers.