Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Why Not Move?

The most stupid comment made to tenants enduring bad housing, be it the epitome of horror found in mercifully rare ‘beds-in-sheds’ to the underlying and constant low-level misery and insecurity of perpetual renting, is: ‘Why don’t they just move?’

Even one famous doctor publicly celebrated for debunking stupidity and a famous advocate of evidence based science, tweeted how he couldn’t see the problem with people being forced to move… because his friends moved. Presumably he has peer-reviewed stats, not just anecdotes. People must imagine tenants teleport from one home to the next, their belongings moved by kindly furniture pixies.

Moving house is consistently placed in the top ten on those presumably spurious ‘most difficult life event’ charts – and that’s just for owners. Renters face moving on every six months, either because they were turfed out on a whim, or when rents were raised so much they couldn’t pay. We know all about moving. We are experts.

But why is relocation so daunting? Because this ‘new start’ is unlikely to arise for any of the ‘good’ reasons, such as finding somewhere more spacious, or closer to friends and relatives or a better school. No. It’s more likely to be away from all those amenities.

Worse is the worry – will a landlord/letting agent take them on, or will they be forced to spend months using the temporary measures detailed in my previous post, at the mercy of rentiers, the crazy world of the internet and vile agents.

Then there’s the expense – two lots of deposits, one in stasis ‘protected’ while rentiers plot to keep most of it. There are vans, removal firms, storage etc to hire, and the hassle of finding new schools, doctors, and informing utility companies that you’ve moved.

Now imagine the close and genuine possibility of doing this annually, or even in extremes every six months – and yes, oh ye doubters, this happens. You will find friends become less willing to come along and help out. You will find unpacking less appealing, along with redecorating – what’s the point when you’ll likely be moving on so soon?

When you’re affluent and on the up, moving is a wheeze, an adventure, albeit a stressful one. You might be stricken with anxiety about the options available, but then at least you have the luxury of choice. When you are less flush with money, you take the first place you can find within your budget – and in places of high demand like London, suitable homes in your price limits are few and far between.

Then there’s the unbearable tension of the cross-over point, that exquisite time of roughly one month where impoverished renters pay for two homes, as they must sign on the line and cover two lots of rent to ensure they keep the flat. All while paying sundry sums to grasping letting agents eager for random fees. It might not sound like much, but the outlay cripples tenants in popular places where there is little opportunity to find somewhere cheaper, especially in hot-spots like London.

So when you read this blog, or other rare stories documenting the plight of generation rent, don’t say – ‘…why not move.’ It just makes you look stupid.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Extremely Bad In London

How do people live in London? How do they afford it, let alone tolerate the conditions? More to the point, how do claimants find a place, and what do they do when they can’t? I lived there a long time ago, and had trouble with finding not just a home I could afford, but a place close to work, and friends. I found it daunting at first, and then impossible, so I left.

Nowadays, it’s worse. Poorer tenants go to extraordinary lengths to pay ridiculously inflated rents, enduring insecurity and cramped spaces, taking several jobs in different travel zones, which is costly and time-consuming.

It’s this bad – this is how people manage to survive, desperate to stay in London and the south as that’s where the jobs are. There are extremes, like temporary-into-permanent sofa-surfing. Or sleeping in parks or bus stations - even on the night bus when things go badly wrong. All of these examples are real and happened to friends, acquaintances or correspondents.

One friend stayed in a converted garage. I say converted – I mean there was a bed and shelves. It was cold, and what was intended to be an emergency measure lasted for almost one year, with her belongings damp and infested with mice. Lovely. But better than the streets.

Another slept surreptitiously in their work studio, which was cheaper than hostels. But he lived in a constant state of anxiety, afraid of being discovered.

Others sleep in kitchens and walk-in cupboards, even to the extent they are sublet and actual rent is paid – for living in a cupboard.

Some live in rooms divided with temporary cardboard partitions, scared that the owner or agent will visit and evict them.

Then there’s two people sharing a bed when on shift work – one during the day, the other at night. I don’t have to explain why this is infantilising, demeaning and dehumanising, do I?

Some stay with partners, returning home to parents at weekends. Doesn’t sound that bad, but it’s the sense of transience – of living like a child under precarious security, of having no refuge, which is what a home should be.

I’ve heard of people working in London, but keeping their home at the other of the country and commuting back, which is exhausting and destroys relationships.

Then there’s sharing bed all the time, when not in a couple. Imagine no privacy or your own space, at first convincing yourself that this it’s short-term ‘…just until we’ve saved enough to buy,’ or even – and this is shocking – saving enough for the deposit required to rent.

Try living in an HMO (house in multiple occupation) full of couples, all too poor for one-bed flats, using one tiny kitchen with a punitive roster for cooking time and the bathroom, where the lounge is used as another bedroom.

Worse perhaps is a combination of all the above, with possessions stored in lockers at coach stations and storage centres.

This happens. Moving to London seems like a great adventure, and these measures might seem exciting, but when they go on for months – even years, it’s not living, it’s existing. The answer is rent controls and more building. And better pay. And…

Monday, 13 May 2013

Cult of Insecurity.

The new insecurity began in the Private Rental Sector, with its six month tenancies, LHA (private housing’s bedroom tax, introduced by kindly Labour) and notice to quit issued on a whim. Now it’s creeping into social housing.

The new proposals were drawn up by people drinking vats of Chablis on their verandah, who own homes and enjoy the confidence that stems from not having worry about little things like food or bills. People who do not understand that poverty is caused by a lack of money, not a dearth of aspiration. Rich people who believe that shooing stinking plebs out of council housing will ‘nudge’ them into becoming company directors. Corrupt people who let their rich friends buy housing stock and rent it out to richer people (as you might call anyone lucky enough to have a job) which happened after right-to-buy.

People like National Idiot Boy In Chief – Grant Shapps, who is still peachy-keen to end tenancies for life (presumably, errant owner-occupiers might soon face being forcibly moved out of Esher when they are naughty.)

Amazingly, the often enlightened Scottish government has raised the spectre of probationary tenancies, where tenants have a year to prove they are lovely. So let’s look to America, where a maximum income ceiling already blights life in their council housing aka ‘projects.’ Anyone who by means of luck, education, business-skill, or promotion earns more money, subsequently loses not just their home, but their neighbourhood, thereby undermining a sense of community. Destabilising cohesion mimics the unsettling nature of the PRS, where many tenants live constantly on edge.

Then we have the housing association behaving like a Victorian mill-owner, by insisting that new tenants sign up to be good citizens. This means accepting ‘lifestyle goals’ like exercise, healthy living and contributing to the community, but tenants who don’t wish to sign are advised that they might wish to live elsewhere. So much for freedom of choice. My advice is to sign, then present their own similarly worded document for housing officers, insisting they renounce Prosecco by the crate, on pain of losing their job.

Then there’s the bedroom tax, where social tenants face losing their beloved two-bed flat, even when one of those ‘spare’ bedrooms is just a box-room used for storage (the clue is in the name – box rooms, that is storage, ie for boxes.)

It used to be accepted that a secure home was not just desirable, or a treat for good little citizens, but an absolute right. PRS tenants can currently be forced to move every six months. This happens far too often, and the problem is that even if private landlords choose not to turf people out on a whim, they can if they want to.

Don’t let this happen to social housing too – don’t mess up people’s lives. In the bad old days, bad old men would ‘joke,’ boasting about keeping women ‘barefoot and pregnant,’ so as to maintain masculine power and control. Perhaps working people are being kept ‘insecure, hungry and poor,’ so as better to maintain corporate control.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Do Letting Agents Get It Yet?

Letting agents – do they, like - get it yet?

Are they finally getting the message? The boos and raspberries about their bizarre, random, money-sucking fees and dubious soul-crushing behaviour have reached such a high level that even Labour are listening. Well, I say listening, when I mean making discreet harrumphing sounds and demanding ‘transparency’, which will hardly have those letting-leeches quaking with fear.

Say it loud - do letting-agents get it yet?
Several London based community private tenant groups, like Digs-Hackney Renters are following Edinburgh Private Tenants Group and staging humorous performative interventions and protests outside notoriously loathed firms like Foxtons. Dressed as the Monopoly board character, complete with lustrous false moustaches, they blockaded the office and were cheered on by passers-by – fellow victims, no doubt. Foxtons were so scared they replaced their staff with bouncers for the day.

I shall repeat the question – do letting agents get it yet?
Every one who encounters them in any way, from landlords, to councils, and of course and especially tenants are sick of their antics. They really are universally despised, for undermining security, shameless profiteering, bare-faced evasion of repairs and justifiable expenditure, but especially for STILL driving those hugely irritating, logo-tastic smart-cars.

But still I wonder - do they get it yet?
They must change their ways. Stop refusing to house claimants. Stop escalating rent prices. Stop being ill-informed and incompetent (my own benighted Landgirl was informed of an important change in regulations not by her soon-to-be-former agents, but by me.) Stop enabling and encouraging those harmful rarities beloved of headline writers, namely rogue and dodgy landlords, to harass and intimidate tenants with spurious ‘inspections’ so as to scare them out in lieu of legal notice.

Do they get it yet?
You are being outshone, rendered irrelevant and obsolete by online portals who charge a little for a lot. Tenants despise you, councils hate you, and yet you appear like Japanese knotweed all over the nations High Street, with high-tech water coolers, high-end magazines, and spurious claims in your windows (and yes, the Scottish agents who falsely claims to be licensed by ARLA - I mean YOU.)

Do you get it yet? Charging for photocopied forms, bullying tenants who ask reasonable questions and refusing to budge when you know they are correct in law. Any party that enacts effective legislation to reign you in will win votes – and there are so many renters in the UK.

Anywhere near to getting it? Letting agents have always been with us, but why are there so many now? Slyly oozing into the ears of nervous buy-to-let landlords like slippery snakes – ‘You can trust us. We only want to help before flipping the whole renting process into web of complication which only ever works to their benefit is their major sin.

Seriously: letting-agents, you are simply a wasteful, harmful anachronism. People never know from one month to the next whether they will have a home, you push up rents and form a layer like scum floating at the top of and contaminating the property market infecting daily life for millions. Do you get it yet?