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.