Monday, 8 April 2013

Small Victories

We need some good news, I think. Many tenants too scared to fight back when treated badly by rentiers. Here are some battles – all small, none involving the overturn and reform of the entire heinous private rental system – but significant for the victors.

Some friends were living in an overpriced city centre dovecot. The neighbours suffered frequent burglaries, while the flat itself is nothing special. Even so the letting-agent explained the rent was to be significantly increased. My friends said ‘no.’ Just like that.

The rent was already inflated, the area had worsened, and the flat was far from swish. Realising something many tenants don’t, they calculated correctly that the landlord would be charged for finding new tenants, and the general fees that entails, as well as the likelihood of a ‘void’ that is – a gap in occupation with no rent coming in, more costly than achieving the rent increase. The rentier did his sums and relented.

Here’s another little win. The landlord agreed a tenant could have a cat, but then called round, claiming to know nothing of the kitten – with evidence of permission lost in an unrecorded phone conversation. So she fought her corner. Maybe he could give her notice and go to the expense and trouble of court case, with his words against hers. But he didn’t. He knew it wasn’t worth the bother. He hadn’t undergone a sudden rush of kindness in his business dealings, but was simply being practical. If the cat caused any damage, the deposit would cover it. So why make a fuss?

Next – the rentier reminded their tenant they have a rolling contract, and casually mentioned they might soon be replaced with new tenants for no clear reason. The landlady was probably trying to unsettle the renters, explaining how she’d rather have a couple move in, since for some bizarre reason she was certain couples are more likely to pay the rent – even though the current tenant was never late paying.

Panicked, the friend prepared to leave, but when the owner played mind-games, such as insinuating she might stay if no better tenants turned up, so the renter said - okay – I’m staying. If you want me out, take me to court, issue proper legal notice, and pay the costs of voids and letting agent fees. The rentier caved, instantly.

So many tenant are pole-axed with fear and struck silent by threats, however subtle, that they give in at once and pay increases or leave. It’s true that few people know their rights, but renting a house is not like driving a car – you do not pass a test, and landlords are supposedly obliged to act lawfully, if not compassionately.

These ‘small’ victories (if not being subtly bullied out of your home can be considered small) might be less common with the end of legal aid in England and Wales for housing matters. People will be unable to check their rights, and might do what so many do; move on quietly, as opposed to causing a ‘fuss’ because renters fear a bad reference more than anything.

Hardly an angry mob brandishing pitchforks and flaming torches surrounding the headquarters of The National Landlords Association. But it's a start, nonetheless.

17 comments:

space cadet said...

I just had the "audacity" to ask my landlord for a rent decrease (by £20 a month). She said no, because "it's expensive living here" (she is renting herself now, in another part of Scotland) and "I am just charging what i would expect to pay".

I liked myself for asking, and really, i like her too, for other reasons, but her answer summed it up for me - the wonderful irony of those two statements, and this twisted justice that says "It's ok if you pay more, but I'd like to save myself some pennies" Think about it, how wrong that is. If you care about social and economic justice. If you think that housing is a human right.

Incidentally, this is a housing association property that she purchased and now rents. Which makes the whole thing just triple ironic!

But at least Thatcher is finally dead. Society couldn't care less, after all, there's apparently no such thing.

RenterGirl said...

Cheeky SEO spammer 'Daniel' said - There is often stigma attached to those that rent but don't yet have the means or the desire to buy - having lived for a long time in Scandinavia this seems to be something that is more prevalent in Britain - although in recent years, where ownership has become unobtainable for many if not most then some of that stigma may be disappearing - one hopes.

RenterGirl said...

Space Cadet - that sounds sadly typical. Renst in lower demand areas still often make no sense.

Anonymous said...

Funny how you blame thatcher who opened up home ownership to everyone rather than brown who slammed the door shut.

space cadet said...

Don't misquote me, you look like a fool. Labour made the situation much much worse, it's true. But Thatcher didn't see that the Govt had a duty towards housing, she wanted rid of the obligation, and it was effectively just another utility for her to privatise and wash her hands of. She started the rot that is our corrupted banking sector, and this housing crisis. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=w_UOwJhGHQo

alan c said...

In dispute at the moment. So far had £497 taken out my £825 deposit from my last one bed flat where I lived for several years by the agent as the landlady was selling up, just the two months notice of course. £216 in various compulsive admin fees and £276 for the flat to be professionaly cleaned including oven and carpets. Fair enough but I got the place professionaly cleaned the day I moved out again including oven and carpets and by a company the agent recommended. Getting the carpets professionaly cleaned before moving out was stipulated in the contract. So I'm arguing the work was unnecessary, the place was left spotless and asking for a receipt to prove the work was carried out. Out of my remaining £333 more will be taken out, admittedly there was some minor damage to a couple of things which i agreed to pay for, i might even up oweing them money. So if you can lose most of the deposit even if you leave the place in A1 condition and somehow the agent finds nothing else to charge for then i don't really see the point of the tenant deposit protection scheme.

Anonymous said...

@ Alan C

My sympathies, that sounds rather extreme. There may be a few points that could help you out.

You mention deposit protection. Are you in a scheme and has the agent given you the correct paperwork? This is the first thing to check. If not then you can threaten them with a claim if they don't give the money back (places online with "no win no fee" type deals)

If they have used a deposit protection service, you should be able to argue your case through the arbitration. If you can provide pictures of the flat and receipts for the professional cleaning (an ideally the letter or email where the agent recommended them) then you should have a pretty solid case, esp. if they don't have the receipts on their side. That should deal with the £276

Sadly there may not be much you can do about the "check out" fees charged by the agent. I assume it's the agent charging not the LL. The agent may not have a valid claim for the fees from your deposit. They may be able to charge you, just not take it from the deposit, check with CAB and Shelter.

Good luck

RenterGirl said...

Alan C - always fight this vi the deposit scheme's arbritration service. The cleaning fee makes me furious - can you imagine money added on to final bills at supermarket check-outs for 'cleaning.' Yes - request receipts. I bet they don't hire cleaners, and then charge both owners and yourselves for cleaning - which when they are selling, you'd expect them to be doing anyway. And they would have charged next tenants as well, fter you had gone.

Labour are currently waking to renting nd the horrors of PRS - but have so far simply advocated 'transparency' and no more rogues.

alan c said...

Many thanks to both of you. Unfortunately what makes it harder is that due to my poor credit record the new place which I'm happy with (decent landlord) is with the same letting agent, so I only had to put down three months rent instead of six, hard enough with only two months notice and no proper access to credit as they knew me and I'd always paid my rent on time or early over the six years I had been with them. Incidentally I didn't get two rent free months as a result always two months ahead. However should I get a bill as the £825 deposit wasn't enough then yes I will ask for receipts. The cleaning fee was from the agent , their excuse was that I only paid for 3 hours cleaning time (using three people) and was insufficient, well they left the flat spotless and £276 to put it right??? Totally agree about New Labour, sure target so called rogue landlords and offer greater transparency, all very stereotypical but we need much, much more than that. I'm lucky I'm on a decent wage but they need to adapt the continental model, particularly the German one possibly if private renting is becoming pretty much compulsory these days.

alan c said...

Sorry, yes I am or was in a deposit protection scheme with the necessary paperwork.

alan c said...

And apologies I'm probably mobile phone illiterate but it doesn't seem to do paragraphs.

RenterGirl said...

That is outrageous - you mean they only care about the hours and not the result? Dispute it once you're safely in, as it costs them to find new tenants. There are many informal dvice and support tenant groups being formed - check if there's one in your area - often run by syndicalists, who if nothing else are practical and direct.

alan c said...

Basically yes, although they said the cleaning company had told them they didn't have enough time. I don't think so, never mentioned it to me, in fact the cleaning company guy said any dispute they would be responsible. Just an excuse to make more money, difficult to complain when it's the staff who bear the brunt, no wonder the staff turnover is so high, it's the directors who are raking it in.

alan c said...

But thanks for the advice, will look into it.

alan c said...

And as another couple of examples, I accidentally burnt the surface of the kitchen worktop. The company handyman came round advising me to get the work done myself or else the company would take about 40 percent commission. Trouble is it needs to be authorized as I found out when they left me 8 days without water, after a plastic thingy in the toilet cistern broke, resulting in a middle of the night emergency call due to flooding to a reputable nationwide company, who were refused permission to replace with new parts so the water could be turned back on. So best of luck with your campaign!!!

Katherine P said...

Good blog post. I'm in a dispute with my landlady, well I say dispute. She's just not giving us our £1000 deposit back and she hasn't protected it.
She was such an arrogant woman. So now we have to go to court if she doesn't give it back soon.
There should be a register of landlords and if they break the rules of letting they should be struck off. This business needs to be more professional. Absolutely anyone can let and at the beginning you think people are ok but you have no idea when it comes to leaving what they will turn out to be.

Katherine P said...

Good blog post. I'm in a dispute with my landlady, well I say dispute. She's just not giving us our £1000 deposit back and she hasn't protected it.
She was such an arrogant woman. So now we have to go to court if she doesn't give it back soon.
There should be a register of landlords and if they break the rules of letting they should be struck off. This business needs to be more professional. Absolutely anyone can let and at the beginning you think people are ok but you have no idea when it comes to leaving what they will turn out to be.