Monday, 1 April 2013

Good Old Days?

In olden times it used to be all fields around here and all the soldiers on the front had the bananas but we never ate real eggs until we were 83.

Ah the good old days. When things were better than good - so good in fact they were perfect. Except they weren’t perfect, but in some ways there were better. If you see what I mean.

Can you imagine the past as far off country where things are done differently? Such as buying TV licenses. Yep – when landlords rented furnished homes, they provided a television, and would buy and pay for the licence. I know! They did though. Really. It seems unbelievable but this happened.

They also used to pay the council tax – or rates as they were called. Rates were viewed, it seems, as a tax on the property, which landlords should cover. There could be problems if they didn’t stump up mind, and tenants were occasionally faced with bailiffs who could execute the aptly named ‘distress warrants’ or ‘levy distress’ that is, enter homes and seize personal possessions.

They also used to give rent free time if tenants decorated – nothing special, just a coat of emulsion. It was expected, that tenants painted and in return got a weeks rent free, but rents were cheaper – or at least, around or even under 25% of your income. Ah – memories…

Being a rentier changed radically somewhere along the line. Tenants had previously security of tenure, and stayed longer. Rentiers complain that the market was ‘stagnant’ – but I disagree, and suspect that rentiers wanted the freedom to turf people out on a whim. They got their wish.

Tenants meanwhile tip toe around home and daily life on egg-shells instead of benefiting from safety, rights, TV licenses and having their council tax paid. Today’s ‘council-charge,’ like the old rates covers bin collection and sewage etc. It’s an bill cost - not exactly a utility, but it does relate to the property.

The problem is that it’s levied on the property’s value, and tenants have no control over that. If their rentier owns a highly valued building – tenants must pay higher council tax.

Landlord’s used to behave as if their tenants were customers, not eradicate them as you would vermin or as idiot servants paying for the pension rentiers ‘deserve’.

Nowadays rentiers have new habits, like leaving their broken crockery in situ for us to treasure. I am a realist, not being pointlessly nostalgic and nor do I have any misplaced yearning for how things were. The past was never perfect, and Rachman walked amongst us. We did have a sense that we paid for a service, while rentiers covered their own costs and did not foist charges onto tenants. After ll they owned the house that rates were based upon.

We didn’t pay council tax. We didn’t have to scrub the place before and after occupation, we had rent books, tellies, TV licenses and we could stay for ages. The days of wine, roses and rent books. Heady times. Heady times, indeed.


Rich Tee said...

Well, the 1980s Conservatives did try to introduce a universal service charge called the Community Charge but more commonly dubbed "Poll Tax" and all the "left wing activists" revolted against it, so we ended up with the contradiction that is the Council Tax.

It has been interesting to see how landlords used its introduction to shove the responsibility on to the tenant though.

Shoe said...

The reason its billed to the tenant (in most cases - actually in my last place in London my landlady did pay it) is because they changed it to a consumption tax.

And it wasn't a "left wing" revolt - it was an "everybody" revolt. Something similar is happening today in Ireland through a direct property tax which only the local Labour party insist is prefereable to a tax which is levied on both owners and tenants alike. That said, property owners of all ilks still feel its "unfair" that lucky tenants who don't have mortgages (they seem to forget about the underlying assets) shouldn't have to pay property based bills.

Waste is billed separately, though tenants are rogered here and at the mercy of the landlord - who can dictate provider should they please. Water charges are, we are told, on the way, although Ireland has a special uniqueness in that as much as 30% of the countries homes have no sewage and are dependent on sceptic tanks (which ravage the environment). Getting people to register these is understandably "sensitive."

Much of the issue anyway with these charges is that they are effectively flat-rate taxes, and cripple those on low incomes. They really should have some kind of income based weighting, but hell sure, the millionaires just love flat rate.

RenterGirl said...

Both excellent points - flatrte taxes benefit the rich, and why did landlords stop paying rates/council tax at the point of the change? Maybe becaus they just... sort of... did. Anyone?

Anonymous said...

Regarding council tax you do realise students and single people would lose there exemptions.

Burbage said...

The tax switched happened when rates (a tax on property) turned into a tax on local services. A reasonable change in some ways. Less so in others.

The switch from people running property as a business, with assets they actually owned, disappeared along with the proper building societies and the dawn of cheap credit (for which both we're all now having to pay). Cheap, no-questions loans, and a farcical lack of regulation, meant that a landlord could buy a property empire on the basis of nothing much at all, though many did go as far as signing up to boosterish weekends listening to 'secrets of property investment' peddled by mortgage brokers in the soulless hotels of minor motorway towns, which, although not exactly the same as planning a sustainable business, is as close to risking their own money as they were likely to get.

However, despite the brochures, margins are very tight in the money-for-nothing world, so many were never sustainable businesses, even with all the subsidies (tax breaks and exemptions, unrestricted housing benefit, artificially low interest rates, a deliberately sustained house-price bubble and the bail out of the sub-prime sector), which is why they're so lustily squealing against regulation while, just as lustily, rogering tenants.

And that is how it looks like remaining. Despite recent declarations that hard-working families shouldn't have to subsidize the feckless, workshy, greedy and stupid, that only applies to tenants. Landlords, as we know too well, are different.

Dazzla said...

When I see seminars on 'How to make untold riches working just four hours a week" or whatever, I always think "Why are you telling everyone about it then, instead of just doing it and getting rich?"

I'm going to write a self-help book that teaches people how to get rich selling self-help books. None of the tips will be any use, of course, but I think that's lesson 1.

RenterGirl said...

Burbage - councill tax is still assessed on the property's value, though.