Monday, 18 March 2013

Bad and Dangerous To Know

Nuts. Bananas. Crackers. So many terms for insanity relate to food.

I’ve had a really interesting, and genuinely disturbing email from a reader, who was renting a house which required a series of minor repairs.

Both my correspondent and myself are aware of the stigma of mental health problems, and are mindful of the need for appropriate language. So it is not lightly that I describe her landlady as mad. This renter shared some relevant communication with me, which is persuasive that her rentier was a damaged woman who had lost her reason and was incapable of a rational response to the duties of letting property.

Some messages were, to say the least, bizarre. And yet there she was: controlling her tenant’s home, over(lord)landlady of their destiny, mistress of their lives, and herself in need of help. Indeed, she admitted as much, meeting their request for repairs with details of her life, her problems, and her fluctuating sanity.

What must do tenants when faced with an implacable rentier displaying a tenuous grip on reality, who has inherited property which they rent out? I am sure this is more common than people imagine. Indeed, the most aggressive landlord I ever encountered appeared to have delusional mental health problems including, I suspected a gambling addiction, accompanied by letting agents who facilitated his behaviour as opposed to advising against it, censuring or even preventing his actions.

Rentiers with severe mental health problems are unlikely to be working, and therefore rely on their rented property for their only income. And they might be depressed, incommunicado, or even psychotic, whilst failing to respond to, or refusing treatment. This is terrible, but if a rentier is maintaining a semblance of coping to outsiders and carers, what must tenants do? If they are really scared, they can call the police, but where else can they turn?

I was once a neighbourhood adviser for a council in London, and landlords going awol was not uncommon. One chronic alcoholic charged rent bills inclusive, but he never paid. Fortunately, we could cover costs while registering bills as a charge on the property, recouped when sold (the police, meanwhile, dealt with the violent fall out of his return.)

Again, I am mindful of the fact that mentally ill people are more likely to harm themselves than others, but I also know of a tenant threatened with a carving knife by his landlady’s partner, when the couple lived in the flat below.

I also lived briefly as a lodger where the resident rentier was a depressive alcoholic. She would drink three bottles of wine per day, at least, and her behaviour was paranoid and irrational. She soon threw me out on the streets without notice (fortunately I had somewhere to go.)

Tenants will do as my correspondent and myself both did: they will move. There should perhaps ways of warning other tenants, for their own sake and also the rentier, who will wonder at the high turnover of occupants. Problematic to organise without the possibility of anonymous denunciations. Any ideas?


Burbage said...

I could add several similar experiences to this, unfortunately. In one case I was even warned in advance by a neighbour. But beggars can't always be choosers and, at the time, I wasn't in a position to choose.

The 'selective licensing' rules in England do allow for a 'fit and proper' test, which might give some hope if selective licensing becomes as widespread as it should. But it'll only work if tenants complain and given the stranglehold of agents in some areas and the worse alternative of 'beds-in-sheds', I don't hold out much hope.

RenterGirl said...

I am - sadly - sure that most tenants have similar stories. So hard to discuss without sounding coercive, regressive or prejudiced, but 'fit and proper' is one way of tackling this. People always forget that rentingg out homes is business, and similar tests should apply.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rentergirl, I'd like to write you a private email but I can't find a contact box/email. Please advise (fellow renter). Thanks.

RenterGirl said...

Anon my email address is under my profile.

Dazzla said...


I recently struck me that I'm going to have to find a flat in London.

The horror.

Any tips? I'd like to avoid letting agents, but I tried to do that before and still got stung. I made it very clear that I would NOT share and I ended up paying a week's rent in advance only to discover that I was sharing.

RenterGirl said...

Poor you Dazzla. Try work noticeboards, friends and social media. Good luck!