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.