Monday, 3 December 2012

The Fear

I started blogging when I lived in Dovecot Towers, a new but accursed, prematurely decrepit and chaotic apartment block which now seems like a bastion of sanity and comfort.

I remember the trials of life in that building: there was a murder, after all, and I witnessed the aftermath of a man taking his own life. There were drug dealers, prostitutes, burglaries and assaults. There were evictions, repossessions, thefts and frostiness and distance replaced neighbourliness, not to mention that the building was falling down.

But nothing is as fearful as reading my own statcounter – the tool allowing me to view what search terms used to find me.

And it’s horrible. Every other question shows real fear, with the words ‘I’m afraid of…’ followed by a varying and increasing list of terrifying eventualities and dreadful possibilities. Flatmates, are (as I wrote previously: see links) increasing menacing, especially when they are unavoidable, and claimants (remember, most housing benefit claimants are in work) are paid only enough to share.

Then comes landlord terror, refined and honed, adding phrases like: my landlord is visiting unannounced, scared my landlord will evict me, I can’t pay my rent, they won’t renew my lease, won’t let me stay. Then there’s I am afraid of benefit cuts, I am afraid to move, afraid to go home, afraid of the future.

Letting agents? I am afraid if I ask for repairs, then they will give me notice, scared they will keep my deposit. Scared they will discover I lost my job…scared they will blame me for the stain on the carpet… scared they will find my cat.

Benefit cuts and rising rents mean tenants have not choice but leaving their home (rising rents in the South, or benefit cuts everywhere) and they have need a payday loan with crippling interest to cover another deposit, while they wait for the other one to be returned after the now traditional dispute about what is reasonable wear and tear and what is vandalism.

When did renting start resembling a horror film? Why are tenants living in constant fear? There is mounting insecurity, a feeling that nobody is on their (our) side, and that we have nowhere to go if things go wrong, and had better move as demanded without a murmur.

Research by the World Health Organisation on sound intrusion has shown the detrimental impact of stress on well-being, happiness and health. Perhaps I am over-interpreting data, but any fool knows that feeling constantly undermined and insecure, being afraid all the time makes people ill, since it has a deleterious effect on the immune system (it’s one possible explanation for the premature death of those classed as financially poor.)

I’d love to see a study of the health of long-term, perhaps lifelong tenants, with regard to mortality rates and longevity, as I am certain it wouldn’t be a pretty picture (evidence required, obviously, but that’s my hypo-deductive hunch…)

But the most regularly occurring and consequently, the most upsetting, worrying and sinister search-term, is rarely refined, or re-defined – it’s simply: ‘Really scared of my landlord.’

Another popular term, meanwhile is this heart-warming gem: ‘Tenants are scum.’


Sven said...

It does seem like you've gotten a lot bleaker over the past year. Sorry if its all getting to you

RenterGirl said...

Thanks Sven - but that's just it. I haven't got bleaker: the rental world has. When people used to find me by unputting 'renting blog' or something smething, now the moajority of questions are downright fearful.

space cadet said...

It's getting to all of us.

Anonymous said...

"I am afraid if I ask for repairs, then they will give me notice"

I have had tenants not report repairs issues to me. Renter Girl you are iresponsible for spreading false and malicious rumours...

If there are repairs issues, I as a Landlord need to know about it.

RenterGirl said...

Oh dear Anon. I am simply reporting tenants real fears, fears routed in fact: landlords do give notice to tenants asking for repairs. I ams ure you are a perfect landlord, but others abuse the power to give capricious notice for spurious reasons. It makes not sense, but tenants who ask for repairs are often designated as pesky. False and malicious rumours? Nah. Simply the reality of life as tenant. Now off you go and polish that halo!

Dazzla said...

I'm living in an aparthotel at the moment. If I told you how much it was costing me, you wouldn't believe it. It's worth every penny not to have to deal with criminally greedy, arrogant, stupid and incompetent letting agents.

Dazzla said...

Ah, also, yes - the newbuild tower that I lived in in Manchester was used by some unscrupulous companies to hire apartments for the weekend to stag parties, it being cheaper than a hotel.

There's nothing quite like being woken at 3am on the only two mornings of the week that you're able to wake naturally to the noise of thick inbreds from Rochdale who think that drinking alcopops in a Dean Street celeb-kennel makes them Shane fucking Macgowan.

Sven said...

Rentergirl - it is pretty clear that the bleakness has context.

Hmolandlady said...

I am really sorry to read this but not surprised. I'm very careful to reference check my sharers and live by the question 'Would I let my kids share with this person?". (Obviously, if they were old enough!)

I've seen a big change in the last couple of years as tenants aren't so transient. What will happen to those under 25s when they're no longer entitled to LHA?

RenterGirl said...

Hi HMO landlady! U25s dodged a bullet with the Condem change of 'heart' in ending housing benfit for U25s. It's everyone else, trapped and unable to move, including the u35s who now only get the shared house rate. nd also - older tenants.

. said...

Hi Penny. I have known that fear well. The following letter shows the outcome:

A Plymouth landlord made the headlines this week for poorly maintained flats but worse things are done more skilfully: I recently lost money because I didn't notice that the type of lease I had was different to my previous lease when I first rented in England. I have written out my understanding of the legal system that was used by another Plymouth landlord in a way that causes hardship:

Since the Section 21 Act of 1988 there has been a legal system that throws people out of their homes automatically after a 6 week notice, giving them all of the legal costs of their removal.
The way the courts deal with termination of assured short hold leases is by providing an enforcement service for landlords and there is no time in which a judge can consider the fairness of events. The tenant has no defence and he/she pays all of the costs, including those of any hearing (such a 'hearing' is a very restricted event to consider only whether the tenant may have more time to vacate.) If the landlord doesn't like the tenant, he can hire a solicitor to complete the ‘Claim form for accelerated possession’ and the solicitor's fee also gets paid by the tenant (Court fee: £175, solicitor’s fee: circa £285). Likewise, there is a bigger fee if the landlord brings the solicitor to any hearing.
Clerks at the court reception area were not aware how cruel a system it is and they advised me to write to the judge before a claim for my flat was decided. The judge read my letter and set a hearing because the court order had already been issued (the clerks' computer records were not up to date). The hearing did not turn out to be a chance for me to defend myself but was just a short time for the judge (guided closely by my landlord's lawyer) to say that: 1. These possession orders are never set aside, and 2. they are not often varied because not many people can prove that possession will cause them extreme hardship (apart from the possibility of becoming homeless and put into debt by the costs.) No time was given to talk about costs, except to add up my new total arising from the hearing (£687).
The hearing left me with 2 days to vacate so my landlord could apply a third blow by putting in an application for bailiff services. I can show that this was just one of many hostile acts and the motive for it was the bailiff fee of £100, bringing my total to near £800.
The Section 21 Act of 1988 brought about this unique procedure which assumes landlords to be right and tenants to be wrong. It was a politically motivated act to 'encourage' landlords in the rental market. In times like these it must be hitting some people hard. It was only my access to quick data services and a habit of using a bicycle regularly that got me out of the cannabis-burning hole in the nick of time, not to mention a kind acquaintance who lent me a van.

p.s. the six-week 'Section 21' notice is given by some landlords to new tenants at the start of every lease in order to intimidate and enable their speedy removal if desired after the first 6 months.

It seems to go without saying that people can be hurt by the procedure as described above. It was originally intended only to give uncooperative tenants a 'rap on the knuckles' by designing it so that they 'lose' in a legal way and therefore must pay the court fee. It was stated that the new procedure was saving the tenants from the risk of losing more money in traditional court hearings where a judge prevails over the decisions. However, for example, my first tenancy in England ended in court in which the judge expressed that I was being treated harshly by the landlord and decided only that I should pay most of the rent which I had started to hold back when I received notice to quit.

Anonymous said...

Your post hit a note with me. We returned to the rental sector a couple of years ago and took on a long term let. After heavy rain over months, a lot of water marks started appearing throughout the property,so I gave the letting agent a short list of them on the quarterly check/visit that we have from them, just to flag them up. They weren't worried, and said they'd pass it on to the owner. I wasn't worried about the paintwork, we could correct that, it was more that there might be more serious damage occurring. The landlady and agent have always said what good tenants we've been and how immaculate we keep the property. Anyhow, within 2 weeks we were given 8 weeks notice. I asked if it was due to the maintenance issues that were raised, I was told no, but it does seem a bit of a coincidence. The agent said the property is being removed from their books and have offered to find us another home and also offered a reference if we find one elsewhere, so all good there.Part of me will always wonder if it was because of the maintenance issues raised. It has made me feel really insecure about our future in the rental sector, but we have no choice like many others.