Tuesday, 31 December 2013

The Five Horseman of 2013.

2013 has been every bit awful as I feared, due to the five horsemen of indifference. Cruel policies implemented – or rather inflicted - by a party of out of touch millionaires caused chaos, despair, hunger, isolation and homelessness.

First The Bedroom Tax. Or ‘spare room subsidy.’ Which it isn’t. Rich people watched a documentary about social housing which show that some people - mostly older tenants - cling to their homes when their family and dependents have moved on.

They’re not evil. They simply wish to stay because their friends, social network and support are close by, and in any case there’s nowhere else to move to – the private sector is tenuous, expensive and actively discriminates against claimants or the poor (openly displaying signs reading ‘No DSS’).

So money was taken from their allowance to cover the ‘cost’ of this so-called spare room. The result was arrears and therefore, debt. They didn’t move. There is nowhere else to live. Labour have promised to repeal this stupid tax. I await the proof of this. I also await the mass evictions, which will start next year.

Next, The Benefit Cap. This too is vile. Hideous. People are limited to how much they are entitled to, not on the basis of dependants (I wonder if this includes disabled children and elderly parents…) and not on their need. It is an arbitrary red-line. It will force low paid workers from property hot-spots – which in truth means London. So who will serve in the shops, clean the homes, work as clerks, nurse, study and set up new businesses in the capital? I’m curious, that’s all.

Rising rents are a nightmare, but this isn’t true everywhere. Prices are still stable and reasonable where work is scarce and supply plentiful. Even so, letting-agents try to insist that rents must be raised.

So, yay letting agents, once more. My friend was house hunting in Scotland, where fees payable by tenants are unlawful. She was being shown a ‘studio’ by an agent, and when they reached the flat, it had no central heating (in Scotland, this is just plain intolerable). To make matters worse, she was informed that the owner would not permit Calor gas heaters. Sarcastically she suggested an open fire in the bedroom. ‘Burning what?’ demanded the agent, obviously immune to irony. ‘Well, the documents which set out the fees you’re illegally trying to charge me.’ She replied. Oh – the fiends from last years roll of shame who claim to be ‘Licensed by ARLA’ in their bumph, posters and ads continue to do so. For now…

The cheering news saving my endangered sanity was the spirit of Digs aka Hackney Renters, and other tenant rights organisations, who are angry, but increasingly organised. This means that I believe for the first time the tide might well turn, with better prospects for rent control and long term tenancies.

Turning my deeply etched frown upside down, I would like to thank and remember the following, who are wise and make me smile.

For his patient demolition of SEO cowboys, and also his blog on housing law - @nearlylegal, aka Giles Peaker http://nearlylegal.co.uk/blog/

There’s @BenreeveLewis. Stern, brave and increasingly furious, he’s a Tenancy Relations Officer. Do not mess with him. He also makes me laugh. Which, things being as they are, is very much appreciated.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Cancel Xmas. To Pay The Rent.

Too many people can't pay their rent. Due to a noxious combination of low wages, high rents, soaring utilities, job insecurity (zero hours contracts with exclusivity clauses) and the looming threat of redundancy, I've been contacted by several readers who can't pay. But here are the measures taken and lengths, deprivations endured and humiliations tolerated to cover their essential rent.

No xmas presents. None. Nothing whatsoever at all. One of my friends can't buy even a tiny gift for her new nephew, another has nothing to thank her supportive family. Yes, xmas is a febrile fiesta of escalating greed, even so, this has happened for the third year in a row, which is demeaning. Not everyone can make something. But she needs to pay her rent.

Porridge for xmas brunch (late to rise to stay under the warm duvet for as long as possible). Porridge for dinner. Porridge for every meal over the xmas holidays. People are not eating properly, if at all, but at least they're paying their rent.

Meeting a potential work colleague in a coffee bar, hoping for seasonal freelance work. My friend had just enough in her purse for one coffee, a rare treat to be cradled and savoured. Contact arrives, but oops - he'd forgotten his wallet. She had enough for herself and the fare home in the darkness of midwinter. Desperate for work, keen to show willing - if not ingratiate herself, she 'loaned' her contact a coffee, and walked home in the sleet. Because she couldn't afford to dip into her rent.

The worry, fretting, not sleeping then simply panicking. The stress is remorseless, unrelenting and worsens. Bellies half-full, minds in turmoil, life lived on a day-by day basis. So tenants can pay the rent.

Kids, who overhear their parents agree to ask for cash and to put into the household budget. So they can pay the rent. Fine dining on value brands and gratefully accepted food-bank bounty. So they can pay the rent.

There are days of holiday in the cold weather, when warm libraries and museums are closed, so pondering a bracing country walk, which is free, but does create a healthy appetite, which you can't feed. Mothers deciding to stay huddled with miserable, fractious, disappointed children under a blanket, afraid to boil the kettle. So they can pay the rent.

Selling everything (I mean everything - that is, absolutely everything) other than basic essentials. So you can pay the rent.

Actually begging in the street to see if you can raise something, to buy food, so you can pay the rent. Lunching on tiny bite-size samples of xmas food. Overhearing your richer friends complaining that you've never repaid that tenner from a few months back. Because you need to pay your rent.

No headache pills or plasters, eking out toothpaste, rationing toilet paper, painful lumps in over-darned socks. Cuts from blunt razors, clothes un-ironed, length of shower rationed on the electrical appliances and scant telly time. Because you paid the rent.

Fearing the unexpected, or anything outside of your strict, regimented budget, such as leaking shoes, a coat being stolen, or a broken pay-as-you-go phone. So you can pay the rent.

Cancelling xmas, because if you do that, you might just if you squeeze, and don't eat for a day (it's only one day, right?) then might just about be able to pay your rent.

Will 2014 be the year that we descend upon Downing Street with pitchforks? I hope so. Because we need to comfortably pay the rent.


Monday, 16 December 2013

Wring Out Your Onesie

There’s a bizarre sloshing sound in both owner-occupied homes and those lived in by tenants right now. It’s this. Since there is no greater fear than turning on the heating, people wear multiple layers, until they end up looking like the Michelin Man. Warfare breaks out between couples and flatmates, with one sneakily boosting the thermostat, the other then sneakily lowering in once more.

One of my friends even works at home clad in paper overalls, which he claims keep him toasty. There’s woolly hats, fingerless gloves, and scarves in the privacy of your home.

Others use improvised insulation, like blankets on the wall, polystyrene plastered to ceilings etc. You never know – it could work.

But the fear of switching on the heating causes another problem – and it’s a big problem. The name of this big problem is… condensation.

This wearing of jumpers under blankets in the lounge is done under duress as occupants watch their own frozen breath snake upwards to the ceiling, where this deluge is distilled until it flows in rivulets down the walls. There it used productively, to irrigate vast fields of mould and mushrooms, with plantations springing up all over the place. Last year I found mould growing on my pillow.

This has been troubling me for some time. Yes, the energy companies are greedy. Yes, older homes – i.e. those built over fifteen years ago let the arctic winds waft bracingly through the walls. Cavity walls were intended to let homes breathe, but are now being systematically and in my experience – inexpertly - filled with insulation. Insulation is now universally regarded as a good thing. Nobody questions this, well, except for a few shy voices whispering at the back.

These voices ask a question. State funding for what is sneeringly referred to by our condem overlords as ‘green crap’ has been insulating lofts and packing cavity walls with warmth promoting material across the land. It’s universally accepted as a brilliant idea, and judging from my experience, lagging the loft makes the place so much warmer. But it also seems to make condensation worse. So that home of yours is warm, but steamy, and opening the window isn’t an option, since the icy hand of frost will barge inside, rendering the energy saved useless.

You can’t leave the vents open. You can’t leave the heating on. Dehumidifiers can help, but they’re electric and so costly in own their way. I’m left wondering if, in a few years time, homes that have become pulsing with groves of toadstools on the ceiling will be visited once more, this time to remove the insulation. In the meantime, I’m still looking at passivhaus developments, with envy.

One friend’s rentier knows of a leak in the roof, but blithely lets the water seep in, because it’s being sucked up by the posh new loft insulation. What a stupid man.

There we all go, sloshing around the xmas tree, wringing out our onesies, contemplating mushrooms. There must be a better way. Perhaps we should wear wetsuits. Constantly.

Monday, 9 December 2013

'Persuaded’ To Leave

They’re back. The firm. The management. You know – the men who help ‘persuade tenants to leave.’ I was reminded of this sinister phrase by the excellent Digs – a tenant rights group based in London. They sent me details of a firm who offer to help owners be rid of bothersome tenants. Some troublesome occupants do not vacate immediately when issued notice to quit by power of thought alone. Some stay, and must be ‘persuaded’ to leave.

Now, let’s not pretend that all tenants are angels. Let’s also accept that some rentiers are saints. Meanwhile at the far end of the rentier spectrum are the pond-life who refuse to use proper lawful method of serving notice.

So let’s explore that ‘persuasion.’ It doesn’t mean a nice lady from the days of Jane Austen in a pretty frock comes for tea for and a chat about the day you’re due to quit the property, soothed from your home by healing flute music and free money. Nor does it mean being served proper notice, timely notice of a court date and the chance to appear and counter claim. No. ‘Persuasion’ means random thugs, often former bouncers, showing up at random times to hammer on your door, then threatening to kick said door down.

This is done by firms of so-called ‘eviction specialists’ and their own ‘legal experts’ who are anything but. These self-appointed ‘experts’ are rarely qualified solicitors, let alone proper barristers. They send pseudo-legal, incoherent letters, badly phrased, unlawful demands with no backing in law, under a thick layer of intimidation or simple threats. Then they add thousands to any outstanding rent, supposedly to cover those ‘legal’ fees.

But this can be really nasty. I’ve tales of tenants being visited late at night by boorish, inarticulate thugs who bellow threats through the front door letter-box, or loudly hurl abuse from the street below. These supposed bailiffs have, I am informed, tried to evict tenants on the wrong day (ie by before the courts say they must, when the owner finds it convenient, or even when no notice has been issued.)

The group using their services the most are new buy-to-let owners. Few have any formal training, and many are oblivious to the need for a series of properly drafted official documents, even if the tenant is in arrears. These are the type of person who find me here by googling ‘Why can’t I just throw tenant scum out onto the streets.’ (Yes – that happens.)

The worst case I’ve heard involved a disturbed landlord, in collusion with his letting agents, ‘visiting’ a tenant, issuing threats but never proper notice, then employing ‘bailiffs’ to come round and try to kick open the door, until the police were called and, unusually, the neighbours intervened.

Now such behaviour is admittedly, unusual and rare, but just imagine the reverse. Picture what would happen if a the benighted tenant of a bad landlord visited them repeatedly at their home, late at night, terrorising their family, hammering on the door, demanding they were removed from a register of landlords, issuing violent threats.

The police would arrive fast, the tenant would be swiftly arrested, then convicted. Simple and without an eyebrow raised.



Monday, 2 December 2013

Affordable Homes.

It’s out there. Labour plan to build lot’s and lot’s of affordable homes. Loads of ‘em. Many, many affordable homes. Plenty of them. Lot’s. This really is great news – we need these ‘affordable’ homes. The more the merrier.

But here’s my problem with those vast expanses, those wide yawning vistas of so-called affordable homes. They will not be affordable. What’s worse, they’ll be substandard. They will be smaller, and shoddier, and not even that cheap.

I used to live on an estate with both private homes to buy and own, and some council houses – or social homes, as they are now styled, were located on adjacent streets. The private barret-boxes were bad enough – thin walls, three bedroom in theory but one teensy box room in reality. They were built with as little space as possible, with no cupboards and low ceilings.

I’ve never understood (and never will understand) just why it is that people in need of social houses should subsequently be deemed to need less of everything, because this is just what happened on my old estate. Why should it be that council houses, or social homes as they are now designated, must be far worse than second best. It’s true that poverty slows human growth, but the impoverished are not tiny pixies.

It didn’t use to be this way. Council houses in the post WW1 were sometimes lovely, with thick walls and high standards. Even those brutalist tower blocks which have evaded demolition have their fans. I’ve lived or stayed in some excellent examples, so I know that they can be fantastic machines to live in.

But still, why does cheaper homes for poorer people need to be so shoddy? The lower your income, the less money available for heating bills, so you’d think that insulation and sturdy walls would be universally considered to be vital. But nooooo.

Let’s remember – this also applies to ‘affordable homes’ bought by owner occupiers. But here’s the bit where the sneering of the people who design and plan houses, that is – those who permit us to live in a house. They actually waved through recent requests by some overseas investors who were building homes in London. The idea was that this development was to feature some top notch, high-end, posh homes, but also – for us povs and plebs, some affordable places. The upshot is that the homes will no be just for the posh, rich and litigious. Oh – and their will be a separate entrance for ‘affordable’ home occupiers, because well, the sight of the great unwashed will disturb and menace the others.

So when new homes are build to rent, or ‘affordable’ or intended for that first, tenuous, precarious step on the ownership ladder, and when (as in my previous post) some homes are let by 'forced' or accidental rentiers, why, why, why are these homes build for some secret mythical norm fit for people who don’t need space, spare rooms. It’s yet another example of tenants being viewed as subhuman, or lesser than owners.

A separate entrance. Really – a separate entrance. That happened.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The Looming Threat

For some lucky people, renting is a glorious world, a constant fountain of glee, contentment, joy and freedom, with tenants waltzing from one ideal home into another lovely residence. All interactions with owners, letting agents and well, darnit - everyone serve to reaffirm the tenant’s faith in human nature. Rented homes are grand, repairs are prompt and prices are reasonable. Happy days! But even fantasy renting is about to get a whole lot worse. It's the news of 'home-owner's soaraway house price delight.' Hooray!

I am as ever dubious that prices are rising as much as claimed (compare 'prices asked for' with 'prices achieved'). In London demand is high and supply is tight, but elsewhere - like less salubrious parts of Glasgow - the cost of a home is stagnant after a fall. Mostly, I believe that febrile, rising house prices are extremely disadvantageous to tenants, especially those saving to buy, but more especially, any tenant whose landlord is one of those so-called 'forced' rentiers, who own homes they cannot afford to sell due to negative equity. Boy can they be difficult.

Often, they do not inform the mortgage company or insurers, which leaves tenants vulnerable if they default, or if there are structural problems with the building. They are often ignorant of the law related to renting out property. They can also be very bitter, and more than other owner resent their tenants, who they view not as the nice people who are keeping them afloat, but as irritants, who whine and bleat for repairs. (Landgirl is the exception to this sad reality.)

They hope to sell up as soon as possible, a fact they often hide form tenants. In the worst examples, they inform tenants not by carefully consulting, thedn arranging for viewings when it is convenient. Nor will they jeopardise their rent by giving notice to tenants, giving them the benefit of certainty. Occupants face having strangers traipsing in and out at their capricious leisure. I've even been told of rentiers attempting to retain deposits because the home they were trying to sell was deemed not to be clean enough to pass muster for viewers, which, politely put, is cheeky.

If acting properly and respectfully, they sell with vacant possession, and so, inevitably, tenants will have to move. The bad rentiers insist on multiple intrusions - viewings at awkward, random times. They will expect the property to gleam.

They might even let themselves in unannounced with some random people to gawp, as once happened to me. An editor I work for was in bed with his girlfriend, but told 'Just hide under the covers until we're gone.' Or there’s my friend 'Dave' who was enthusiastically and athletically expressing his love for his boyfriend.

This will hit if prices rise. Landlords who do not wish to let homes for the long term, and plan to offload their property ASAP must be compelled to inform tenants, who already endure the tyranny of institutionalised insecurity, and live knowing they might have to move every six months.


Monday, 11 November 2013

Family Homes.

So let's return to those tens of thousands of new homes currently been promised and planned for by everyone - that's all governments, developers, and everybody.

As I have said previously, I strongly suspect that in reality, this means the resurrection of the dreaded 'dovecot' - that is, rickety, thin-walled, tiny, jerry-built one or two-bed flats provided for the delight of buy-to-let owners, and not the spacious, well-designed family homes we need. The last time there was enthusiasm for buildings, we ended up with vast, yawning, panoramas of matching newbuild low-rise blocks of flats, which are probably starting to fall into disrepair... right about now. Well - those that aren't falling down.

First off, we must define 'family'. We need to define family where idiots like Jeremy Hunt are bemoaning the fact that we don't all welcome our elderly parents to live with us, despite that bedroom-tax thingy, and the UK having the smallest homes in Europe, etc. Families in actual, real life are complex creatures.

They rarely comprise of neat interludes of 2.4 children per heterosexual life-partnership. No: families are blended (that is when two partners with children from previous relationships share a home). They mighty even be multi-generational - with grandparents sharing to be cared for themselves, or to care for children. There will older half-siblings of varied gender, perhaps returning home to save or in breaks from their studies. All or none of the above is likely to be employed to do shift work which comes with anti-social hours. Some might be disabled, and so require specific access facilities, and space for health equipment.

In all honesty it's always been that way. Tenants – even owners – must live in what they are given. But now we must cater directly for real life. Privacy is essential, and rooms situated in other storeys, as sticking to two floor houses might not work anymore. We need separation of rooms dedicated to different uses. The current trend for open-plan living defeats different modern life: people need a quieter study space, and room for eating and distracting 'entertainments' like television.

They will also need sufficient storage space for everyone, for clothes and other possessions, and of course proper sound-proofing. I'm really interested in the idea of the 'passivhaus' built with triple glazing, excellent insulation for warmth, and heated by warm air circulating. This would bring an end to the spine-tingling fear, guilt and recriminations when the one person at home turns on the heating.

This typically, untypical family I've created also needs a good-sized garden, with some space to grow food (I am not expecting any more allotment space to be set aside any time soon.) The kitchen should have enough space for energy efficient food storage ie large, economical freezers, and cupboards for bulk buying food so as to economise.

So that's what we need: a new initiative for three-story, spacious, sound-insulated, passivhaus's, each with enough room for every family member to have a seat at the table and another in the lounge. Is it too hard? I can hear developers everywhere laughing disdainfully even as I type.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Who Pays The Tallyman?

Here's another post inspired by an anonymous reader's story. She shared her tales of the many malevolent and odious actions of her former landlord in London. He had suggested that if she was struggling to pay the rent he would 'go easy on her if she was 'nice' to him.' We all know what that means: my correspondent moved out straight away.

Her email coincided with a planned post about how the bad old days are returning, by which I mean the power of the 'tallyman' or other regional, colloquial terms for rent collectors. In the old days, in the very old days, housing was not seen as a right. Tenants were grateful to have a roof over their heads, even a hovel crammed to the rafters with hungry families.

Occupants were exploited: squeezed into slums, with several families living in homes built originally for just one. Landlords controlled the destiny of anyone they condescended to accept the rent from, and abuses were rife. Once per week the dreaded tallyman knocked on the door, and if the week had been a bad one, with the man of the house out of work and consequently away, the lady of the house would answer. If they were behind with rent, her only hope of avoiding homelessness and the workhouse, was that he might generously allow one week's grace and let them stay. But this was more sinister than it sounds.

In order to ensure the indulgence of the landlord, the woman of the house, alone perhaps because her husband or father was hiding from debt collectors, was occasionally obliged to offer a 'sweetener' to the tallyman. That is, in order to ensure her family had somewhere to live, and secure the small mercy of delayed payment, she might be compelled to offer, or likely, have been asked under duress, for sexual favours.

This was in an era where moralising notions of the 'deserving poor' dominated the law and social policy - when impoverished people were seen as being in need because of moral laxity. The hypocrisy of these judgemental attitudes is breathtaking. Prostitution was a constant threat, or dark 'opportunity' for the desperate, but if the tallyman bragged the woman might be deemed a loose woman, and forfeit her reputation, her children and consequently, her home.

Supposedly, we live in more enlightened times. But the clock is ticking backwards. Research by Shelter and The Joseph Rowntree Trust confirm that increasing numbers are in rent arrears, terrified of eviction and afraid to negotiate with unsympathetic private rentiers (this is one place where I especially hate the word landlord) so let's remember this.

The minimum wage does not pay enough for rent, alongside sufficient heat and proper amounts of nutritious food. Social security pays less. Faced with a choice of hunger or homelessness, heating or eating what choices will tenants be forced to make?

Tenants will do as they were obliged to in the bad old days. The truly desperate will sell their belongings and ultimately themselves, only to find they are judged and punished for it.

And around we go.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013


It was another scandal waiting to happen. The BBC have belatedly discovered that letting agents, lovely, lovely letting agents, those kindly, munificent do-gooders were quite willing to assist landlords reject black tenants. We were all shocked Shocked! SHOCKED!!! I tell you.

The chortling was widespread. Landlords get whatever they want, and so refuse necessary housing to whoever they deem 'undesirable' no matter how vile, unreasonable, or absurdly arcane their reasoning. Tenants have been aware of this since forever, and know that no matter what the law decrees, a subtle nod and a furtive stage wink will give a discreet thumbs down to applicants landlords don't fancy housing. With social homes in decline, that fact this is widespread in the private sector is extremely worrying.

I do not wish to downplay the corrosive and horrendous nature of racial discrimination in the private rented market, but it's worse than the BBC imagined. Private housing is treated by owners as a medieval fiefdom. So here's the full list of people also discriminated against by owners I’ve heard of:

1 Older tenants (they will stay too long).
2 Younger tenants (they will have parties and move).
3 Families with children (noisy kids).
4 Single people (they will move, or move in partners).
5 Single parents (feckless, of course - The Daily Fail says so, ergo it's a fact).
6 Childless couples (they will move).
7 Freelancers (unreliable – despite this being the preferred employment method of most businesses).
8 Shift workers (will supposedly disrupt neighbours)
9 Anyone the owner or agent 'doesn't like the look of,' (excuses all other excuses here).
10 Gay people (simple prejudice).
11 People with certain regional accents (just... because).
12 People that owners have to yet to meet in person meet but don't like the sound of on the phone (who knows why.)
13 You know, 'them - people who seemed a bit... well... kind of: you know (you know… them…)'
14 People who they suspected had been drinking for no clear reason (the view that all tenants are ‘chaotic’).
15 Mental health service users (routine - even endemic).
16 Ex-prisoners - even with spent convictions (even though tenants can’t say the same to rentiers).
17 Students (will party hard then leave).
18 Service men and women (not sure why).
19 People who are either of the previous two (go figure).
20 Anyone without an unrealistically, angelically clear credit record (that is, most of us, except landlords could be as dodgy as hell and we will never know).
20 Artists (who knows why).
21 People saving up to buy (they will move ASAP).
22 People who have moved around every six months - despite only offering six month tenancies themselves (owners suspect the real reason is being evicted bad behaviour).

That list is utterly unreasonable. There’s no way of appealing or challenging it, since it's unrecorded, and standards shift - what one rentier likes in a tenant is loathed by another. You do wonder who exactly is good enough to live in a property since all tenants must be perfect. Just perfect. Inhumanly perfect, wonderful in an otherworld, not-of-this-planet sort of way. In short - nobody fits the bill.



Monday, 21 October 2013


In every major city, there are neighbourhoods full of old-style, poorer 'traditional' housing, now re-evaluated, then probably or hopefully, appreciated once more.

In Northern cities, it's the terraces: street full of reconfigured two-up, two down homes. In Scotland meanwhile, it's the tenements. Many of both types of these old homes were demolished – regarded as hovels, since they were considered and designated remorseless incubators of disease and poverty, perhaps with justification. In some places, like the bizarre ‘Pepperpot Park’ in Eccles, they were remade.

Before that, Manchester lost the Georgian slums of Hulme, which were covered with newbuild flats on top of demolished sixties monstrosities, while Glasgow destroyed the largely unmourned Gorbals, celebrated for a sense of community, but universally demonised for overcrowding etc.

Remaining tenements are now considered to be quite desirable. The best examples, like the ‘Greek’ Thomson flats in Cessnock are lovely. I've been told by architects that the reason they are still standing is simply that are very hard to knock down, because they were so well-built and sturdy.

Tenements are far from perfect. In fact they are often problematic. Firstly because when first built, they lacked bathrooms, meaning that several flats (they would never be called apartments) would share an outside toilet, while washing facilities for both human bodies and their clothes were communal, in 'steamies' and bathhouses. Sometimes, the concept or memory of joyous community masks a lack of dignity, with no privacy.

Updated, renovated tenements often have bathrooms placed in what were once cupboards, box-rooms or larders, none of which were designed to vent steam and condensation. The proportions of the newly valued homes might seem generous now, but remember this: visitors, socially minded commentators and charities used to wonder why children always played outside, and blamed parental neglect. The real reason was a large, possibly multi-generational family squeezed and huddled sleeping in 'end tenements.'

The kitchen was the warmest room in the house. Indeed, in some examples it was the only room in the house. Many featured a now illegal niche, which contained, next to the range, a double-bed, where everyone would sleep, well - those not sleeping on the floor, or wherever they could squeeze. That’s one whole family in one bed. Now – that’s actual squalor. This meant bedding next to an open fire, with all that entailed: it was a hazard, and deaths were commonplace.

Glasgow's People's Palace shows an end tenement on permanent display. It's truly sobering to see where people lived, slept, ate, cooked, reproduced somehow and died - all in one tiny, airless room, complete with a chamber pot. There was little dignity, scant room to for privacy, and malnourished occupants would have dreamed of living in a lovely, lofty, airy mansion flat, where they could study, eat, sleep separately and breathe.

These days, no end terraces remain, and all tenements have been refurbished or demolished. Tenements can be cold and hard to insulate, but are still desirable. Please remember this: they now house one or two people, not an entire large family.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Mansion Flats

When `I lived in London, I used to envy my friend's flat. His home was in Fulham, and it was beautiful. This was a 'mansion flat,' a type of building, I think, unique to London: an apartment designed in late Victorian/early Edwardian times and built to the highest specification.

What made it so good? Perhaps this stems of my years in stunted, rickety newbuilds or shoddy conversions, but I was then, and still am now, amazed by the costly, understated comfort, and easy grandeur. The rooms had cornices, occasional examples have plaster mouldings and decorative fireplaces. The rooms open onto a long, elegant corridor, some even have balconies, and then there are 'pantries,' or what we might today call utility rooms. The doors are thick wooden panels, and the ceilings are high.

When they were first built, the original residents would have employed domestic servants: a daily maid-of-all-work at least - perhaps a resident maid. Laundry would have been sent out, so there was no need for drying space, as is palpably the case now.

The grandest, the best of the high-end mansions flats overlooked well-tended communal gardens. They also had open fireplaces, ranges in the kitchen, and probably a porter, to accept post; to fetch and carry. Life was good for those lucky occupants. The 'gentleman of the house' would have worked, while the 'lady' would have... been a suffragette? Were they renting their home? Possibly. It might have been a convenient, city-centre pied-a-terre, used by those who owned land, perhaps an estate, or even another home or farm in the country, reached by the new rail system. Amenities like parks were close by.

Mansion flats had lifts, lobbies, and were never second best. These new style of homes aimed high, since they were intended for a 'better sort' of resident: professionals, academics, surgeons, bankers, or business people. Class is the key issue here, since it wasn't simply that richer people could afford better (larger, brighter, warmer, safer) homes. They were considered to be entitled to them.

What this meant for those lucky enough to live in mansion flats was dignity borne privacy, seclusion, space for study, and room to socialise. Storage for shopping, a sense of separation, room to live but space to gather when required. There would also have been a bathroom, complete with actual bath, in a time when cleanliness really was next to godliness and not a simple matter of personal hygiene. Occupants collected kept possessions, like books and spare clothes.

And poorer people? Some new housing associations and foundations gave a (highly judgemental) damn about the poor - The Guiness and Peabody Trusts built some fine housing for their tenants, provided they worked to 'better' themselves, avoiding 'idleness,' ‘godlessness’ and drink. Remind you of anyone? As for these poor people who worked for the owners of mansion flats, or who served them, begged from them or obeyed the orders they issued? Well they lived in slums or tenements. More on them next in my next post.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Party Time Is Over

So, now we can take a breather – you know, go for a lie down, have cup of tea – stuff like that. You see, the party political conferences are all over, so we can return to normal business, like struggling to pay rent or find work etc relying on politicians to make all the big bad, renting monsters go away and then to kiss it all better.

Yes indeed - all three main parties have realised that tenants, who rent but do not, cannot, and will probably never buy a home, can still vote. You've had Labour's former housing spokesman on 'transparent agent fees' and even Pickles playing 'longer tenancies' but real tenants, that is - me too, are rarely asked. Now if anyone did care to ask us what policies we’d appreciate in the wonderful, sunny happy, happy, happy world of private renting…here’s what we would say:

1 Longer tenancies? yes please! But in Pickles tenants charter - there is a 'break clause' for longer tenancies, which will be abused without funded 'policing' to check owners really are selling up or housing family members. So there really be longer tenancies – the Tories are sort of saying ‘pretty please on longer tenancies’ when they should be saying: ‘Gimme!’

2 Rent controls - unpopular, but especially needed in London - when interest rates are low, rents rise high, high up above the sky because they can, not because there’s a need, such as costs. This could stop tomorrow, if anyone cared to be tough.

3 So-called 'forced landlords' must be compelled to tell tenants clearly that they will be selling the property i.e. someone else’s’ home so renters are aware their tenancy is inherently insecure, and will end whenever it suits rentiers.

4 Resources to protect tenants from the rare but vocal 'rogues' to be increased, right now. Tenancy Relation officers to increase in number, emergency help lines, better police training to prevent unlawful evictions.

5 Space standards in newbuild for BTL - no more cramming in rabbit hutches.

6 Landlord and letting agent licensing – and soon, please, properly funded and with really strong financial penalties such as losing the property for transgressions.

7 In HMO's or shared houses there must be minimum standards such as sufficient space, storage, bathrooms for tenants, including a seat in the common area for each tenant - so owners must also ensure provision of adequate 'common area' or lounges, as we used to call them in the olden days. This would end the practice of rent-to-let, so no more cramming tenants into box rooms to eat sleep, and do everything, in one tiny little room.

8 A national tenants forum is needed, to be consulted properly on new laws policy and all matters related to tenants, renting, building, buy-to-let, build to let. So that developers must listen and take the needs of tenants into account when building or planning – see previous post.

Here's to strict, properly funded, clear, researched red tape in rented housing - we need more of it. Much more.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

But What Shall We Build?

Build! Let's all build! Hooray! Let's build 200,000...buildings, yeah. Buildings. The more the better. Lot's of lovely, lovely buildings. Yay buildings! Well, that's the Labour attitude to lack of supply in London - it's not a problem in most places. (The Lib Dem attitude seems to be: '...erm, ask us one on sport, please.’ Just as it is with all things.)

Except... what kind of buildings shall we build? Big ones? Small ones? Homes to live, or investment piggy-banks, for accursed short-term tenants to sit in, quaking with anxiety and waiting to be given notice. We have endured decades of teeny, flimsy, punitive homes, which punish us for renting as opposed to buying. Even people who buy newbuilds to live in must be furious, when given the keys to their compacted, hard-won hutch.

Well, first of we need proper one and two bedroom flats – not ‘Dovecots,’ for the poor people rattling around in mansions paid for by the state *sarcasm klaxon* evicted because of the landlord profit subsidy known as the bedroom taxed housing benefit. They must be genuinely affordable, by actual resident earth human people, not billionaires. We also need proper family homes.

And in these buildings, the ones we will build (hooray!) can we also please have:
1 Gardens (or access to a garden.)
2 Storage, and plenty of it.
3 Enough space in bedrooms to place and then walk around a king-size bed, next to which there will be a wardrobe, chest of drawers, chairs, and room for all of this to actually open.
4 Storage
5 A utility room/utility cupboard for mops, hoovers, washer/driers, clothes racks, etc.
6 Somewhere to dry laundry - inside and out. That means no silly rules which prohibit drying on balconies.
7 Proper kitchens, with room enough for several (oh god, she's going to say cupboards again, isn't she...?) cupboards and cabinets for saucepans, crockery etc, as used by humans to cook.
8 A lounge with enough space for overnight guests to spread a double inflatable mattress.
9 A bathroom with shower over bath, dry enough and ventilated so that towels dry rather than fester in the squelching bloom of mould, which must not, for privacy and dignity's sake, open up on to the lounge.
10 Sound proofing, so we can't hear neighbour's lurrrve-action, or worse, pissing in the bathroom, their music or voices - not raised, just chatting.
11 A corridor. So that we can have privacy, and bathroom doors which open onto corridors, not lounges. Somewhere for damp coats to dry.
12 Proper space standards – not flats designed to suit what was built in the past. We need enough room to spread out, entertain visitors, assemble flat pack furniture, and work at desks while someone else is watching telly. Room for book shelves, ornaments etc.
13 Bike lock-ups.
14 Spare rooms. These will not be taxed, and will be used to store medical appliances, visiting children and other guests.

That's all,
Yours Sincerely Rentergirl.
PS - we'd also like to be able to stay in these buildings for a long time. Maybe even decades.


Tuesday, 24 September 2013

DIY Makeover

It relentlessly grim up here in the world of a lifetime of rented housing. Things are worse than ever before - really bad. People still face eviction under the bedroom tax, and there’s not enough one bedroom flats in the private or public sectors, and the benefit cap, rising homelessness coupled with pointless cruel benefit sanctions. It's horrible.

Now you might know that in my 'other' job, I write for a living. Part of that involes outlining proposed articles to harassed, overworked section editors. One of my pitches, you will be unsurprised to hear, concerned how to furnish and decorate a rented home, given the restrictions of nasty furniture supplied, landlords who insist on the dread magnolia, the 'Accursed Short-Term Travesty' and lack of money.

I was commissioned - hooray! But then a following email apologised - another writer was already commissioned, with the article to run within days. Damn. The article which eventually ran was a challenge; I read with amazement. It was written by an interior designer/decorator who seemed not to rent, who recommended turning books into a 'focal point (I'm banging my head on the desk as I write this...) by stacking them in a single pile so high that removing one book from this vertiginous stack would cause certain death.

She also suggested, if memory serves: 'Why not cheers walls up with a bright colour?'

Why not indeed?

Because the owner/letting agents won't effin' let me paint that's why!

Now I read the papers with some distress, seeing no news of rent controls, and Labour promising to end the bedroom tax as if we should be grateful, not appalled they took so long…but here are my tips:

1 You can paint the walls - as long as they are restored to their former colour and condition before you move on. It's best to ask, because during the dreaded, pointless 'inspection' (where especially in London, agents stormtroop their way around looking for any excuse to give notice and raise rents) your creativity will be noted and you could be given notice – no reason is required.

2 If you have any money buy a new mattress and...a four poster bed. You heard me: a four poster bed. They're available online, and will keep out draughts in unheated bedrooms.

3 Buy plants. They're bright, they're alive they're cheap and you can take them with you.

4 Novelty shelving - if you have money - 'lifts a room' and you can take it with you.

5 Rugs and mats. Make the place seem your own.

6 Cover shabby sofas and unsprung chairs with blankets, if the landlord won't replace or remove them.

I think we'd all be better off if property was by let as unfurnished by default. It would be expensive to begin with, but you'd collect furniture etc as you moved around. And you wouldn't need to put your mattress on wooden pallets, because you were certain your next home (and there will be a next home) has a rickety base the landlord won't replace.

I know it's not much, but it's the best I can do. This is so depressing.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Run Away From Letting Agents!

This was sent by a reader: "Okay, call me naive but I find it shocking how poorly London rentals are managed. Our family rented a house that is supposed to be professionally managed by an agency. There is nothing that can be described as professional about it. There was no one to walk us through the property to make sure we understand the details of heating and plumbing. Problems are not handled because the manager cannot get in touch with the landlord. There is no binder or list of which appliances are covered by warranty -- or not --- for either us or the 'managing agent' so it is difficult to resolve what should be done… we are at the higher end of the market, but the neglect and poor management seem to be universal. "

I've noticed that many letting agents will do anything to avoid putting the actual owner's name on the rent contract. I'd been wondering why, when this could leave the agent wide open to legal action in cases of disrepair, since it’s arguable that they have taken responsibility for running the property.

The rewards must be massive. Attempting to hide the name of the owner, agents prevent tenants from approaching the owner directly. Why? Simple - so the tenants and landlord can't become better acquainted, realise they are both reasonable people and opt out of using letting agents.

This happened with Landgirl and myself. She and I met, learned that we were both reasonable people, and questioned why she should lose a percentage of her vital income to pay a firm who were more useless than 'Useless & Co - The Most Useless Company In Uselessville, Uselessshire, Uselessland.' I am trying to get across the following point. The old letting agents were...useless. And Landgirl was contracted to pay them for this uselessness.

Many landlords want to be ‘hands-off,’ which is fine, but letting agents just want to squeeze money from every transaction - like using their own, high cost, contractors, or constant charging both tenants and owners for every renewal. They do little other demonstrate dumbfounding, crass awfulness.

You'd think some governing body would intervene. They won't. My correspondent’s best option is to divorce those evil letting agents. The name of the owner is available, and it costs very little to obtain their name despite her agents seeming inability to contact her rentier. Notable also is the fact the she describes herself as at the 'higher end' of the market. We are all renters at some point in our lives, and even in top-notch properties with enormous rents, there is no guarantee that she will be treated fairly, let alone well. A friend of mine contacted the owner of his flat after the agent went bankrupt. When last we spoke, the owner was deemed responsible for refunding the unprotected deposit, to his utter astonishment.

Especially when rentiers own one or two properties, and they live in the same town or city, all agents do is coin in money. So take a deep breath. Tenants and owners - say hello. Shake hands. Be reasonable. Prepare to deal direct with each other. It's the sensible way forward.

Monday, 9 September 2013

My Own Room

The creepiest track ever made is probably ‘What’s He Doing In There’ by Tom Waits

It reminds of one of the hardest parts of sharing, be it in families or with flatmates; the idea that you should always have a sense of mystery, of having barriers, a sense of seperation, of being able to shut the door behind you and forget the people around you. It's about space - to be yourself...to listen to music. To think. To just be alone. Especially when you are young, and finding your way in life, deciding who you are. Sadly, the notion that we will once more hide in our bedrooms as teenagers is over. The idea that everyone, no matter who they are, deserves a room of their own is dead.

Even Michael Gove realises that we need a room of our own – he’s spoken about how the lack of space to study is detrimental to school students with nowhere for revisision. He’ll soon backtrack and claim he was, in fact blaming people for not earning ‘hard enough’ to buy larger homes, or something. You can’t study in a room where three same sex siblings are gaming, fighting, or making music.

The consensus on the need for space for those on no/low pay collapsed when a Labour Government (yes, a Labour government) introduced what was effectively bedroom tax for the private sector. LHA replaced housing benefit and limits the money paid to cover rent for claimants, by decreeing how many rooms allowed. We've witnessed the demeaning effects of Bedroom Tax’s notorious assault on dignity. You must all be aware of some rules. But did you know that under it’s ludicrous rules, the single sex Walton sextuplets – six of them – would have been forced to share a bedroom? Siblings must share until they are, I think, 12.

That’s much too old - I wonder what Victorian campaigners would make of that, since they argued for 'decency' - or as we might argue, privacy at what is a very sensitive age.

Yep - I know that the great high idiot in chief Grant Shapps says he sons share a room so that he keep an office in his 'modest' home, but when his dueling teenage sons start flexing their muscles, he can just use some of his millions to - ooh, I don't know...move? Build an extension?

Lord Freud (he of the eight bedroom mansion) doesn’t care, that this condensing of permitted space is infantilising when we live we live so differently now. It was Virginia Wolfe who said that women writers were held back in their development by not having a room of their own. Claimants under under 35 must now share houses – how long until they are forced to live in barracks, with bunk beds? We live differently, with music, television, and people come and go -they work in shifts. We need spare rooms. We all need a room of our own.

So to answer Tom Waits- what he's doing there is this: dreaming of some space – of some peace. He’s also dreaming of some solitude.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013


Burglary is an upsetting and horrible crime. Having once lived in an area famous for housebreaking, I know this all too well. I once arrived home in the afternoon, and to my astonishment encountered a man nonchalantly trying to kick down my front door. I was stunned and appalled, but even so - I reasoned with him.

‘Please don’t rob us,’ I said. ‘We’re broke, and we’ve nothing of value – nothing you could sell.’
‘Sorry mate.’ He said. ‘I didn’t know you were in.’
He’d clearly been watching the house. ‘And anyway you’ve got insurance.’

We didn’t have insurance, and what little we owned was cheap but precious to us. I knew he’d be back.

One morning my housemate opened the window and saw another man half-way through the ground floor window. She screamed at him. He swore at her and fled.

We knew he’d back, too.

They didn’t wait long. Our house was emptied of all electrical appliances, including, oddly, an angle-poise lamp, which was an expensive gift. The idea that some spiteful, entitled little scrote rifled through all our personal possessions was truly distressing.

We phoned the police – for all the good it did us. They took a few notes, issued a crime number and left. Then we told the landlord he should repair the flimsy back door they crooks had pushed aside to force their way in.

The landlord’s response was to treat our request as if we were asking him to do us a massive favour. He would do the repairs and even install a burglar alarm if we agreed to let his ‘cousin’ move into the box-room. Well, that wasn’t dodgy at all, was it?

Some owners of furnished homes insist that tenants obtain contents insurance – which is legally dubious, and cheeky. They’re trying to force tenants to safeguard the owner’s property, which is stupid and ill-informed. They should pay to safeguard their own belongings and possessions – those that remain as fixtures, or linger unwanted in the house.

It always makes me wonder why they don’t supply burglar alarms, especially when rentiers previously lived in the homes they’ve just let out. Considering that their property could be damaged by robbers breaking in, you’d think security would be right at the top of any priority list.

But no. Owners seem oblivious to the perils of handing out keys like pass the parcel, and tenants can only change locks if they keep and then replace the original. Security provisions are certainly do not equal what rentiers have in their own homes. They expect tenants to make do with flimsy doors and weak windows where the frame is removed with a gentle shove.

Tenants are helpless here. They can’t really justify the cost, or effort of installing burglar alarms when they might be given two months notice at any time. There is no guarantee they will reap the benefits. So they’re stuck with rickety back doors and precarious windows which do not shut – let alone lock. And there’s very little they can do.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Context of Our Woes

What’s that high pitched whining noise? Why, it’s tenants, struck by the reality of renting. Renting is horrible, this we know, but it’s not horrible in a vacuum – it’s yet another example of life worsening for the precariat – the buzzword which describes people who’s work and employment is precarious. What sounds like a sustained mass onslaught of monstrous, unfocussed griping must be placed in context.

First off the noble Condem overlord’s Benefit Uprating Bill limits housing benefit rises to 1% per year, even when, in certain places, rents rise at 16% per year. The bedroom tax, and other benefit reforms will also help expand benefit saturation where jobs are scarce but homes cheaper and more readily available.

Remember – many, or most, claimants are in work. Employed but low paid tenants now seem less than ideal to all powerful owners who give an imperial thumbs up - or down - to potential tenants. Low wages thwart us. Many renters battle with two or more part-time jobs. Renters dream of earning enough to buy, or just to rent a more spacious home. That nightmare of unattainability is fuelled by cut price Dairylea, not artisan cheddar, and they end up as couples in home shared with other couples.

Rents are sometimes so high that tenants can’t afford to feed themselves properly or heat their homes, let alone put aside something each month for a deposit to buy somewhere. They rely on the legendary ‘bank of mum and dad’ which assumes we have a Mum and Dad, that they have a ‘bank,’ and are not worried about their own coming under-funded retirement.

Meanwhile, owners no longer retain property for decades, profiting instead on slowly accumulated equity, insisting on a ‘return’ each week in places where demand is high.

Renting is inevitable – rarely is it a choice. Suitable, affordable homes are rare, and by suitable, I mean fit for modern life – room to study, for blended families to invite children to stay, or care for elderly relatives. Victorian villas and even terraces have been sliced in two, and then again, while developers build ‘dovecots’ not family houses or the one-beds with room to live as we need.

Employment is insecure, with vulnerable, desperate workers compelled to accept low paid work, either freelance and those damned, soon-to-banned, zero-hour contracts, or else they weave a complex, mine-strewn path in and out of employment back onto social security. Firms go bankrupt or relocate abroad, and workers are employed by companies who pay them as little as possible and therefore profit from social-security themselves.

There are added complications, like rent-to-let, sealed bids for houses, short tenancies, no rent controls etc. Everyone agrees that letting agents fees are horrendous, but nothing is done, and there’s no appetite for ending retaliatory eviction, or notice issued on a whim.

That unbearable whining is turning into hopeless screeching. It isn’t about unachievable dreams. This is about somewhere safe and secure to live – somewhere we can cover rent without worrying daily in case we are turfed out of job or home. Context, context, context explains that deafening noise you can hear.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Return of Buy To Let

I’m barely numerate. I am starting to believe that economics isn’t really a science, but voodoo. Despite – or because - of this mindset of mine, I soon realised that the last housing bubble would end disastrously.

No matter where I looked, all I could see were masses of the newbuild developments I called dovecots. I realised the madness of over-supply was linked to the easy loans doled out to those desperate for pensions or the investments apparently required to pay for their children’s future home and education. I take not joy in being right, but yes, it ended badly, I think you’ll agree.

Have we forgotten the bad old days of queues outside building societies, of people stockpiling debt, even borrowing from their own impoverished families, before being doomed to bankruptcy and ruin. I went through this myself, with a rentier who had obtained 14 buy-to-let mortgages, and who ultimately lost it all.

Do we want the madness to return? For tenants to face eviction because their buy-to-let landlord is insolvent,?

But like a zombie lurching towards another victim, demanding fresh brains for tea, that hideous ‘buy-to-let’ is back. This is terrible, terrible news. No – seriously. It’s really bad. ‘Why’s that?’ you ask. Surely it’s nice, people, buying houses for poor, homeless, desperate people to live. Owners will nurture tenants. They will house them in luxury, they will be sympathetic, responsive, helpful, and responsible.

You see, that’s the problem. Sometimes it’s like that – just a simple transaction, where people pay rent, and rentiers keep the profit but fix and maintain the place. Idealistically, I’d say it’s usually like that. But sometimes… it isn’t.

Few rentiers are trained, so they are often unaware of the laws regulating their behaviour. They plead innocent when told they must organise annual gas safety checks. They are even quite put out that they must observe legal methods of giving notice. The learned Ben Reeves-Lewis frequently encounters owners who are astonished when informed that they can’t do exactly what they like. They say ‘you’ll be laughed out of court,’ when faced with fines for what is, in effect, eviction by harassment.

In London, with the assistance of the universally derided Tory ‘Help To Buy’ scheme, the market for homes is febrile once more and already lurching towards the precipice. Elsewhere, in the North, Scotland etc, once more, guileless investors will snap up newbuilds, which will of course plummet in value, with sad, life-destroying inevitability. People will borrow from friends and families, ruining everybody’s credit, prospects and their lives.

There aren’t enough homes in the private sector, but what we do not need is another episode of rickety, tiny, dovecots – euroboxes or yuppiedromes, snapped up and rented out by resentful but desperate amateur rentiers. We need family homes, well built places for single people to live in, space for multi-generational and blended families to spread out and live in harmony, with space for cupboards and facilities to dry laundry.

So don’t, please don’t re-inflate that poisonous bubble. It will splatter misery everywhere.





Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Advice For Students.

It’s that time of year when all over the land parents are weeping and clinging to their offspring’s ankles in a vain attempt to delay their departure. Either that, they’re ready to open the bubbly and put out the bunting. Yes, it will soon be time for beloved children to depart the home for several years of study. And also, drinking.

For many it’s their first time of actual independence. Some head straight for halls of residence. Others venture where the wild things are – that is, the private rented sector. Here are some tips. I hope they help.

1. If in Scotland, all – that is every single agency fee, encoded as premiums, is illegal. Don’t pay them – or if you do, it’s easy to reclaim them

2. In joint tenancies, open a shared account for bills, and rent. Or at least pay one bill each to share the load. You’re all friends now, but if someone doesn’t pay up, you’ll lose out.

3. Full time students are not liable for council tax, but non-students will have to cover the bill for the whole house. Complicated for ‘mixed’ households.

4. Life in a rat infested, mould encrusted hovel run by a demonic landlord is not fun, or an adventure, no matter how temporary. You deserve better. Complain to the council, or seek help from advice agencies.

5. Don’t annoy the neighbours, especially if they have kids or are elderly. Befriend them.

6. Watch out for ‘furnished’ flats. Check they have desks, and enough cupboards and fridge space for all occupants.

7. If you return home over the xmas holidays and leave the house empty, leave the heating on low, and check for other measures – like finding where the stopcock is. You don’t want to come back faced with a deluge in your lounge.

8. Put the bins out.

9. When negotiating your rental contract, check that coincides with how long you want to stay. Obvious, but no point signing up for a year if you want to leave in June, at the end of term.

10. Rules are tedious, and an imposition, but at least discuss what you all expect, as things like not washing up can lead to actual bloodshed. Sort out common flashpoints – like bathroom rotas and noise level, before violence breaks out, or the sulking/door-slamming starts.

11. Don’t leave your washing to fester in the washing machine – take it out when the cycle is done. Everybody needs to wash their clothes.

12. Don’t make loads of noise when you come back late, either on the street, or in the house. Yep – could well be your one-off late party, but for everyone else, it’s work tomorrow.

13. Don’t surreptitiously move your new partner without permission. Everybody hates that.

14. Try and meet your new landlord in person. Letting agents do their level best to obstruct this, but it’s best in case of midnight power failures, total meltdown etc.

15. Keep an eye out for each other. Make sure everyone comes home safe, and isn’t ill, or depressed. You’re sort of family now, so look after each other.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013


When owners sell a property, they must truthfully answer enquiries about the people who live close by or next door, questions like do you have any disputes with them, has anyone threatened to kill anyone else, etc. So all those years of spite over the fence about leylandii, or parties, car parking spaces, nosiness, noisiness, or just irrational mutual hatred which worsens daily until loud shouting matches are a daily ritual, has consequences. These incidents must be shared with incoming occupants, if they have the sense to ask.

Renters, however, never have good neighbours on their list of priorities. Perhaps because renters can move, it doesn’t seem so important.

Tenants also face a double dose of problems – for example, my own close neighbour doesn’t seem to like Landgirl very much, for reasons best known to herself. There is some sort of simmering antipathy or row about which I know nothing. We met on the doorstep recently, and it was unsettling to listen in as my neighbour badmouthed my excellent rentier who can’t do enough to make life easy, and is professional, even – blimey – kind.

But this is not my fight. I’m not say anything, for fear of offending Mrs. Neighbour and starting a dispute with no hope of ‘plausible deniability.’ I avoid the sort of ruckus, which if it escalates – NB it won’t – enters whole new world of weird. I wonder how many tenants are aware of this, and when neighbours initiate and escalate mindless vendettas, join in enthusiastically, until there’s an actual blood feud. I not joking about the last part, because some disputes end in violence.

Tenants are often alienated from their local community, because they are seen, and indeed see themselves, as transient occupants whose stay is temporary, or else as that coupled with nuisance. People who are allowed longer tenancies contribute more to the community – they take part in neighbourhood watch, chat in a friendly manner etc – maybe even swap cards at xmas.

Many tenants with an Accursed Short Term Travesty never speak to the people who live next door, because they move know they’ll be on the move soon, maybe in six months time. The worst examples enjoy loud parties. There is the issue of students, who move into shared houses where neighbours might be elderly, and for whom even a one-off weekend party is intrusive.

Round my way, the people who live below have moved out. It’s pity. They were lovely, with kids. The new bloke is nice enough, but there is one major drawback to this turnaround. He cooks fish – all the time. Everyday.

But here’s some advice. When you move in to a new place, befriend the people who live close by – chat with them. They could be your friends. Mine are lovely. The other night, I heard another neighbour speaking into his phone ‘Code red! CODE RED!’ Neighbourhood watch can be useful to everyone when there are thieves trying to smash open front doors or break into cars. So be nice. They might be useful.

Monday, 29 July 2013


‘Mentally Ill, Being Evicted, Have No Friends, UK.’

Sometimes I wonder how we got here. I mean how did we reach the stage where a fellow human person can see no other solution to their problem than asking online, late at night? Yes, this is about more statcounter misery. The sentence above was a search term used to find my blog recently, and it made me cry.

So many issues were raised by just one, simple, raw enquiry. Firstly, being mentally ill is still an insurmountable barrier to being housed in the private sector. Technically, discrimination is illegal, but on the sly, by asking pertinent questions, it’s often possible for ruthless, devious, prejudiced fellow tenants, letting agents and potential rentiers to unearth evidence of mental health problems.

‘I’m being evicted.’ Well, the place for advice is Shelter, Citizen’s Advice, your council’s homelessness unit, or a solicitor, but legal aid has been cut in England, where you live, so also try MIND. Why are you being evicted – rent arrears, the bedroom tax, end of contract, or other reasons?

The most upsetting part of that question is the ‘have no friends.’ Isolation is horrible, and anyone can find themselves adrift in a world of self-absorbed couples, like a lone gnu on Noah’s Ark. They might have moved to a new town for work or study, whilst exhibiting ‘challenging’ behaviour, then watched everyone back off slowly, phone calls unanswered and invitations dying away. It’s not only older people who live solitary lives of constant despair – younger people also suffer.

Claimants under 35 must share, and non-claimants are usually too broke to live alone. Service users might be socially awkward, and could face interview panels, when the simple common fact of being a claimant in itself effectively hinders acceptance, so imagine:
‘Tell us a little about yourself…’
‘Well I like music, art, and I love washing up… oh – I’m also on medication for schizophrenia.’

Couldn’t we start a register of socially responsible, reasonable, enlightened rentiers willing to house mental health service users? Yes, this could well stifle that hands-off, no-bother, low-key management so beloved of buy-to-let, but… so what. That pension is their reward. I also wonder if the notorious shamefully ‘risk averse’ insurers see all mentally ill people as potential fire starters, when they are in fact more likely to harm themselves than others.

I have lived in developments where tenants were housed by the council, then left alone to cope, unsupported. Sometimes people rallied round, but occasionally residents shared concerns only to see things go badly wrong, once when a resident attempted to take their own life much to the amusement of a giggling temporary caretaker.

It’s simple. Some people get colds, some endure cancer or suffer various illnesses, and others have mental health problems. Recently a straw poll of my acquaintances revealed, inter alia: eating disorders, attempted overdoses, self-harm, severe depression, and psychotic episodes. That’s a normal cross section of society.

Who will accept responsibility for someone in this predicament? Nobody should be left alone to google their desperation. Whoever you are, I hope you’re okay. I wish you every good fortune, but I’d be lying if I said finding another home will be easy. If you see this, let me know what happens, please.




Monday, 22 July 2013

Why Do Rents Rise?

Short answer? Because letting agents profit from ramped up rents. If tenants refuse to pay and opt to move out, agents then charge for every part, every level, every transaction in the in the renter finding process, since they charge for references, holding fees, etc etc etc. Except in Scotland, where fees are banned.

So rents rise. They keep on rising. Or do they? I still think the problem is recording rents ‘asked for’ rather than rents achieved. Basically, some rentiers try it on, and letting agents are worse - they pull fantastical rents out of the ether. They make them up. These numbers then appear on internet sites, and become reported as the going rate.

Rents rise because rentiers still exercise their ‘right’ to rise rents whenever it suits them, and because nothing exists to rein in their excesses – no mechanism is available to control their greed. Where demand is high they charge what they wish. They see ludicrously inflated rents as beneficial to their eternal quest to be ‘debt free’ ‘mortgage free’ or simply rich Rich RICH and fervently believe this ambition is attainable. Tenants fall victim to this delusion, because they have their rents hiked to insure this. And if they can’t pay they’re described as losers.

Wise rentiers value longer tenancies and nurture relationships with their tenants because they realise that while letting agents insist rents should and must rise annually, owners lose more money with costly voids and under-occupation. Some agents even include automatic annual rises in rental agreements.

Rents rise because some people, especially small-scale buy-to-let rentiers, see rising rents as a good thing, much as they do house prices. They impose misery of rents rising every six months, as they can with impunity.

Now society is trapped in a groove, with property price rises viewed as good for the economy, despite evidence to the contrary. It’s odd, but even when people are saving hard to buy homes for their families and for their future, property rises are seen as universally an excellent thing. I now suspect that excessively elevated, ramped up rents are also seen cause for celebration.

Rents are not rising everywhere. They rise where supply is restricted, especially in London, and oddly Warwick. Where the world is sane, and housing is not inherently problematic, rents are not racing to the sky.

Rents are rising sixteen per cent per year. Social security does not reflect this – Local Housing Allowance rises at one per cent per year. So in places where homes are scarce, prices explode and benefits sink. Brilliant. This means that even rents in less desirable properties, euphemistically described as ‘affordable’ where people on no/low incomes rushed to live, become rare and prices rise.

Why do actual rents rise? That’s easy. Rents rise because they can. Because we let them. Because we are immune to the scandal. Because everybody, even the wonderful Shelter, oppose rent controls, although the notion is starting to gain popularity. The idea that people can just charge whatever they want for such an essential item is stupid, and damages us all.



Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Renting Getting Nasty.

I’ve been perusing my statcounter again, the widget that lets me check search terms used by yourselves to find me, and oh - what joy there is to be found. My favourite was this gem, ‘I fucking hate my whining tenants.’

The assault on social housing via the bedroom tax is just one example of the way tenants are viewed as lesser forms of life than richer, home or other property owning mortals.

But let’s be fair – some tenants, a minority, whine. They think rentiers can, and indeed must teleport over pronto to open sticky kitchen drawers. They are mercifully few and far between.

Meanwhile a few benighted tenants are being shot, unlawfully evicted, or housed on sheds. More commonly tenants endure constant insecurity. Worse still, they now face being evaluated on dubious cowboy referencing sites, appraised negatively for having the audacity to ‘smell of drink,’ be claimants or unemployed, for daring to ask for repairs, or have the misfortune to live under the jackboot of a rentier who frankly does not like the cut of their jib.

These sites are astonishing. They insist that tenants must list any ‘identifying marks,’ and state if they are disabled. Commentors share their intention to deny housing to various ethnic groups. It’s existence is legally and morally weak. Or just plain nasty.

But there are many people desperate or sufficiently ill-informed, and probably too scared, to refuse to hand over their personal details. How will this information be stored, how safely are details checked and kept, who will be allowed access? The answer it seems, is anyone who pays.

I do not like these ‘hate’ sites, for rentiers or tenants. They formalise and publicise grudges, with no right of reply: I prefer sites where rentiers and renters rate each other, with a mutual likelihood of respect and fairness, not charging rentiers for access to un-checked slurs.

Rentiers frequently forget that letting property is a business, with human beings at the heart - flawed organic beings, who grow old, get ill or have accidents. Tenants fondly imagine that they pay for a total service, not just the honour of insuring the rentier’s pension, so they can just sit still to watch the property bubble inflate and float away again.

Renters amble on with life, ducking some quite awful treatment. Some – mostly small-time, inexperienced - rentiers wish to avoid due process, so evict tenants by secret handshakes or telepathy, whenever they want, no matter how unfair. Then they laugh at tenants for their human foibles, like being mentally ill, or enduring low pay.

The other challenge faced in this increasing torrent of bile is dodgy bailiffs. They offer to circumvent proper solicitors, and their fees, but also – their expertise. They offer ‘fast action’ on ‘unwanted’ tenants, when they ‘fast-track’ vacant possession.’ Every cold euphemism hides a cruel illegal act.

Renting is already expensive, insecure and belittling for adults seeking an actual home. Police – unless properly trained and instructed, often take the side of the freehold owner during illegal evictions. It’s increasingly like dodge city. Occasionally with real bullets.




Monday, 8 July 2013

Ask Auntie Rentergirl (Redux)

I’ve been sent another request for advice from a reader. I am not a debt advisor, nor am I legally qualified, so I’ll just put this out there:
‘In 2011 I graduated from university and to cut a long story short the shock of leaving university, struggling to find a job and being with the wrong person resulted in me failing to pay credit cards, phone bills and water bills which resulted in a CCJ and generally getting my finances in a real mess.
Roll on two and a half years I have secured a great job, met the love of my life and made real progress to becoming debt free (not a single default since May 2011) and I paid the CCJ off within three months of it being issued.

We are currently living in a privately rented house share however in the near future we would like to move into a small rented home for two. Just one problem I am petrified of approaching letting agents which require a credit check. I suppose what I am asking is will my poor finances really prevent us from renting - I have always paid my rent on time and all of my other bills have been paid on time for the past two years? How should I approach letting agents? Are there any really good ways of finding a private landlord?

You advice would be invaluable!’

The answer is – yes, it will cause you problems. Before you say it – ‘wants to move’ isn’t whimsical, but part of exercising the right to family life, and yes – it is a right. This problem is worsened by letting agents, who now farm out ‘credit checking’ to pricy outsourcing companies, so that some people in my correspondent’s situation don’t stand a chance. Remember, life is messy, and people make mistakes. This doesn’t mean they should forever be refused one of life’s essentials – that is, an appropriate home.

I’ve said it before hereabouts, but bankruptcy is surprisingly widespread. There are times when people simply can’t cope with what life is throwing their way, and they buckle. Must they be punished forever, and should they be punished at all? Do not judge – anyone could find themselves in this situation.

This person has paid off their debts – debts which can be incurred by anyone. What’s more, there are often two sides to any story – what seems like tenants doing a runner could be aggressive owners harassing vulnerable tenants into quitting.

Young people do some daft stuff, and hopefully they learn. Or people become ill, or disabled. Here however, the debt is paid. Remember that in times of economic crash, unemployment and cuts, this situation will become ever more common.
So do I have any advice? Sort of… First of all – try making your own ad, maybe on the can of worms that is Gumtree, openly and honestly stating your circumstances. There might be one humane, realistic landlord who thinks – ‘…there but for fate walk I.’ Indeed – there but for fate tread most of us.

Mindful of the low level of checks rentiers must endure before they let out homes, I’d suggest finding a guarantor, or – and I hate this - paying six months upfront, if the cash is available. Do not judge – anyone could find themselves in this situation. So, people - any more constructive advice, or ideas?

(NB – trolls will be deleted.)

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Six Monthly Makeover.

I have an idea for yet another make-over show. It’s for rented homes, and will have a glamorous celeb finding drama and poignant stories while renovating a rented home – but there’s no warm fuzzy ending to gladden our hearts.

Recently, the BBC requested my thoughts on renting – now permanent reality for many, and how to make it less, well – crap. They misinterpreted some of my suggestions, listing ‘get rid of clutter.’ Nothing major, but I’d said something stronger. I’d said get rid of any extraneous possessions.

Making your home look fantastic, rendering it comfortable is a challenge when you might have to up and move at least once per year, maybe every six month, and furniture is included. One rentier even chose paintings, and had them screwed to the wall making it harder to change them. It’s like living in a show home, only all the furniture is faded and shredded.

The first trick is to discard any superfluous possessions. Keep only what you can imagine lugging up and down three flights of stairs, alone. I’ve disposed of my vinyl. I was once a music journalist, so some of it was tasty, even valuable, but I just couldn’t carry those bags anymore. Ipods are so useful here, but yes – it’s hard. Tenants can’t afford to be hoarders.

The point was made in posts and comments that rentiers should not refuse the reasonable request to decorate, especially if tenants paint the walls greige again when the vacate. Take pictures to record your actions is my advice, protecting yourself from deposit slicing letting agents.

Other than that plants, and pictures, what can you do? Trying to make proper home, which is pleasant attractive and personalised matters – you spend time there, and owners are more concerned with resilience than beauty.

Try providing small items of your own manageable furniture like desks (why do owners so rarely provide them, even in student lets?) Make sure they are portable – you can load some onto roof-racks, and when in the revolving doors of in/out renting – this matters.

Blinds and curtains help, and there’s nothing to stop you removing then safely storing those vile, threadbare drapes, replaced when you leave. Or bettering what was supplied by owners like the ones who provided blinds that stopped half way up.

My pet hate is old tiny wardrobes. I prefer rails, from shop-fitters – easy to carry, any wardrobes filled with boxes, books and mouldy old curtains. You could also buy at least one comfy chair, even in a furnished home, at least second hand.

The worst part is carpets. Mouldy, stained, smelly and defiantly maroon, they usually come with huge sofas that ‘ping’ every time you sit, which you can cover in cloths or blankets.

I’ve said it before, but continental renting is usually unfurnished allows for decorating. It’s true that tenants stay longer, and put the walls back as they were, but personalising your home is accepted. Renting can be so dispiriting. Fitting your entire life into one van every few months is humbling. Let us paint.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Visiting Evil Upon Them.

It’s nice to have visitors, isn’t it? Tea and biscuits, friendly chat etc. One common form of visitor is totally unwelcome - even dreaded, presents of biscuits or not. No, not burglars, or termites, but letting agents, on inspections.

This is a relatively new occurrence. It used to be that tenants found a home, moved in, and unless there were problems, might not see the rentier (never, ever a letting agent) until they moved out. Not anymore. Now tenants are plagued by regular ‘checks,’ every six months at least, often as frequently as three months, even monthly. Perhaps agents want to be seen ‘doing something…anything’ to justify their inflated and bizarre fees.

Landgirl divested herself of agents, but I have fond memories of them arriving, doing their level best to look official, professional, and frankly, relevant, standing awkwardly, asking about repairs. On one occasion, they simply admired my plants before leaving asap.

I’ve suffered from the other side of this high and heavy handed practice. In a previous home, I found a note on the floor close to the communal back door (they couldn’t be bothered to climb stairs and post it to me.) Eventually, visits increased in regularity, but no repairs were done, no matter how many times I raised the problems. Finally, I withdrew consent, and said enough was enough. They stopped.

I wonder when frequent ‘inspections’ can be considered harassment, even with correct notice? I know of people, in dispute with rentiers and agents, who have been met with weekly, even daily ‘inspections.’ One was told it was because the owner was worried he’d sold the fridge on ebay.

The most annoying phrase related to this is: ‘Your presence is not required while the inspection is in progress.’ Erm, I think you’ll find it is. How would rentiers and agents like strangers wandering around, opening cupboards (this happened to me, I checked like a spy with thin sellotape on the bottom of a door), rifling through drawers, looking at the post on the doormat?

Sometimes inspectors comment on the tidiness of the place, which is none of their business – it’s the state of the property when tenants leave that matters. Even if renters are staging a minor dirty protest, providing they clean up afterwards, there’s little owners can do, although they would probably issue notice, because that’s always possible.

I’ve heard of owners arriving at weekends, wishing to inspect on the ‘wrong’ day and hammering on the front door demanding entry, of sending round clueless, nosy friends in their place, arriving with a posse, even taking photos of both the home and the renter – legally suspect, and also intimidating. Some of this behaviour is caused by owners failure to understand that they no longer have the right to saunter in and (land)lord it over their tenants.

Since owners must be notified of their landlord’s name and address, why not ‘notify’ them you intend to inspect their home, during the day, when they are out, and turn up with a few mates and a camera. Not nice. So don’t do it to renters.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Notice of Danger

Tenants live in constant fear. They do not sleep, and cannot eat. The event they dread could happen at any time, and might destroy their lives, launch them into homelessness, propelling them towards debt, unemployment and relationship breakdown.

And what is this dreadful disaster? Fire? Locusts? Flatmates who are dyed in the wool Barry Manilow fans? (NB – this happened to me – the horror…) Do they cower from those villainous, semi-mystical, usually mythical bete-noires, the rogue landlords? Do they dread famine, Michael Gove, or death? Homes sucked into a hellhole, like in Poltergeist?

None of the above.

Tenants are scared of receiving notice - of being asked politely, lawfully and reasonably to leave their home within the correct legal framework. For tenants, it’s the most common way of finding themselves homeless, desperate, pleading for help, and sleeping on sofas – if they are lucky. This, lamentably, is a fact.

It’s one of the reasons I am irked by the otherwise amazing Shelter’s ‘stamp out rogue landlords’ campaign. The threat of living in a shed is horrible, wrong and the vile landlords who do this should be imprisoned. But the simple fact of lawful, legal, rightful notice is an every day problem, and causes widespread harm.

When notice is issued without warning, or when tenancies are not renewed, it’s usually about money – mainly when letting-leaches whisper into a rentier’s ear, giving them promises of inflated profits, heedless of the cost of seeking new tenants, since agents coin it in from sundry, random fees.

There are also silly ideas about squatters’ rights. In truth, squatters have no rights, but certain novice, ignorant rentiers insist that unless tenants are moved on regularly, they will have permanent leave to remain. It’s about wielding power.

Sometimes it’s just disorganisation, with owners thinking about selling up, issuing a notice to quit, then just – you know, changing their minds, heedless of the effect this has on tenants’ lives, or security.

Sometimes the reason is tenants asking for repairs – retaliatory eviction, deliberately problematic, in cases. Timing seems spiteful, with tenants moved on with no care for school terms, no concern for times of the year when moving is a problem – I shall mention again, that in France, nobody can be evicted in Winter, even when arrears are severe.

A former neighbour was expected to move out on January 1, and the rentier would not budge. January itself is quiet when house-hunting, but this meant the entire, notoriously slow, month of December was spent frantically seeking somewhere to go. The rentier was dismissive, and simply referred repeatedly to ‘her rights.’ She wanted more money. The flat was unlet for months. The tenant endured a nerve-wracking, miserable xmas.

Tenants slip between homes, desperate to cope with news that is always delivered at the wrong time, such as when hours have been cut, money is tight or when renters are ill, rendering new owners/agents unlikely to house them. Rogue landlords are appalling, but blasé, deluded avaricious owners who give notice on a whim cause more problems.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Be Nice When Interviewing

Tenants increasingly share homes, some forever, as rents rise, benefits slashed and with little looming hope of plentiful new homes any time soon. So you need to ensure that you are compatible with your new family – for that is what they are. There is no point embarking on a new life as a vegan housemate lost like some slaughtered lamb in a household full of rabid carnivores, or a silent, yoga-postured, meditating aesthete where competitive partying is the way of life – indeed, the law.

I wrote about how the incoming newbie tenant can screw up an interview, so now it’s the housemates turn. How do you behave when looking to fill your desirable vacant room? Some things are best sorted out first. A friend visited prospective new home, and found it to be filthy, with several un-emptied bins (‘…we couldn’t be bothered to empty it,’ they offered, with truth in jest.) But, as she reasoned, at least she was forewarned, choosing not move in.

If you’re sneery, arrogant and hostile, then in turns extremely patronising, looking down on the applicant’s musical choices, their job, their hobbies, you will get what you deserve that way – a like minded flatmate, that is - a total arsehole, just like you.

But then, some other housemates interviewed a newbie, sitting in stony silence, as he rattled on of his love for clubbing and gay bars, his new boyfriend, banging house, his questions about their preferences all greeted with astonishment. If you are pious, christian abstainers, why not make this abundantly clear in the ad to save everyone’s time?

There are other faux-pas, such as taking notes, on a clipboard – shared with fellow interviewers while giggling loudly – then saying ‘…don’t worry – we’re always like this, don’t mind us.’

The fact remains that this is happening to everyone – even to older tenants, because of rising rents and benefit cuts is another occasion for humiliating applicants. One correspondent was met with sniggers, ‘notes’ being taken and shared, and the question ‘…exactly how old are you?’ snorted by chortling twenty-somethings. One of those things that they will remember with horror, when as adults, they fall from the housing ladder through poverty, divorce, bad health or terrible luck, when the words ‘Exactly how old are you…’ won’t seem so funny.

The nicest story was the happy house, where prospective new co-tenants were met with coffee, smiles and homemade cake, shown around, asked gentle questions to ascertain how they’d fit in, and made to feel welcome, not as if they were being held in custody suspected of murder.

Best of all, was the friend merrily sipping tea and chatting with potential flatmates, eventually told they were waiting for one other resident to appear.

Finally he arrived, and was introduced to her with the words: ‘…meet Herpes Dave.’ She was half-way into asking ‘But why is he called…?’


Monday, 3 June 2013

Labour - Please Wake Up To Housing

And the winner of the ‘No Shit Sherlock’ award goes to… (shuffles with silver envelope… serious face for annoying pause…) The Labour Party!

Hooray! It’s richly deserved, and they’ve worked hard to grasp the facts, but they won the prize for the following remark:

‘Labour has come to a settled view that it was a mistake in the mid-80s to switch from directly subsidising social rents and building homes to giving tenants the money to pay higher rents.’

I know! Bless their little cotton socks. Aw.

Here’s the situation. The Labour government started the appalling process of cutting rent paid to claimants when they introduced Local Housing Allowance. Someone in their ranks – an idiot SPAD recently graduated from McKinsey I expect - spotted that the benefit bill was rising, and even though most of that comes from pensions, chanced upon rising housing benefit.

So they had fantastic idea: imposing a ceiling on housing benefit, to persuade//cajole/force on pain of being homeless, so tenants would choose cheaper homes. There is so much wrong with that stupid idea, born as it was during the buy-to-let boom which was intentionally ramping up rents as if this was a good thing.

In some circles, rent paid to claimants as Local Housing Allowance is referred to as ‘Landlord Benefit’ because it’s paid to rentiers, not tenants. It’s like another way for the state to cover adequate to downright generous income those no longer working.

That’s why the (Labour supported) Benefit Cap is so misguided. People live where the jobs are, jobs which might be insecure, part time and low paid, and workers claim benefits, which cover the cost of their rent, to allow them to work. The money they receive does not go on hats, or champagne.

It is another form of state subsidy to the rich and to business – in the form of letting agents. The people who suffer are tenants, fighting at the bottom of the market to find a place they can afford, without paying stupidly high fares.

So build more homes. In London/The South/Everywhere, on brownfield sites. Build homes people need – one bed homes with plentiful storage and space to dry laundry, and family homes. Provide proper sound insulation, and separate rooms, to get round notions of ‘spare room’ so that tenants can have some safe space for people, like children of broken relationships, to stay, which is hard in the mania for open-plan. Somewhere to stow a bike safely, no communal post rooms, and not three floors squeezed in where there should be only two.

The need for these provisions explains why tenants cling desperately to rooms deemed ‘extra’ for bedroom tax valuation.

We might also need overcome a distaste verging on horror for high-rise housing, and learn again to build higher, ending short term economies, like saving on bricks by building small roomed dwellings.

Rents will be cheaper, people will have actual choice, and private landlords will profit less when the benefit bill no longer swallowed up by benefits covering stupid high rents. Labour it's great that you're awake, but now you need to listen.