Monday, 29 July 2013


‘Mentally Ill, Being Evicted, Have No Friends, UK.’

Sometimes I wonder how we got here. I mean how did we reach the stage where a fellow human person can see no other solution to their problem than asking online, late at night? Yes, this is about more statcounter misery. The sentence above was a search term used to find my blog recently, and it made me cry.

So many issues were raised by just one, simple, raw enquiry. Firstly, being mentally ill is still an insurmountable barrier to being housed in the private sector. Technically, discrimination is illegal, but on the sly, by asking pertinent questions, it’s often possible for ruthless, devious, prejudiced fellow tenants, letting agents and potential rentiers to unearth evidence of mental health problems.

‘I’m being evicted.’ Well, the place for advice is Shelter, Citizen’s Advice, your council’s homelessness unit, or a solicitor, but legal aid has been cut in England, where you live, so also try MIND. Why are you being evicted – rent arrears, the bedroom tax, end of contract, or other reasons?

The most upsetting part of that question is the ‘have no friends.’ Isolation is horrible, and anyone can find themselves adrift in a world of self-absorbed couples, like a lone gnu on Noah’s Ark. They might have moved to a new town for work or study, whilst exhibiting ‘challenging’ behaviour, then watched everyone back off slowly, phone calls unanswered and invitations dying away. It’s not only older people who live solitary lives of constant despair – younger people also suffer.

Claimants under 35 must share, and non-claimants are usually too broke to live alone. Service users might be socially awkward, and could face interview panels, when the simple common fact of being a claimant in itself effectively hinders acceptance, so imagine:
‘Tell us a little about yourself…’
‘Well I like music, art, and I love washing up… oh – I’m also on medication for schizophrenia.’

Couldn’t we start a register of socially responsible, reasonable, enlightened rentiers willing to house mental health service users? Yes, this could well stifle that hands-off, no-bother, low-key management so beloved of buy-to-let, but… so what. That pension is their reward. I also wonder if the notorious shamefully ‘risk averse’ insurers see all mentally ill people as potential fire starters, when they are in fact more likely to harm themselves than others.

I have lived in developments where tenants were housed by the council, then left alone to cope, unsupported. Sometimes people rallied round, but occasionally residents shared concerns only to see things go badly wrong, once when a resident attempted to take their own life much to the amusement of a giggling temporary caretaker.

It’s simple. Some people get colds, some endure cancer or suffer various illnesses, and others have mental health problems. Recently a straw poll of my acquaintances revealed, inter alia: eating disorders, attempted overdoses, self-harm, severe depression, and psychotic episodes. That’s a normal cross section of society.

Who will accept responsibility for someone in this predicament? Nobody should be left alone to google their desperation. Whoever you are, I hope you’re okay. I wish you every good fortune, but I’d be lying if I said finding another home will be easy. If you see this, let me know what happens, please.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Why Do Rents Rise?

Short answer? Because letting agents profit from ramped up rents. If tenants refuse to pay and opt to move out, agents then charge for every part, every level, every transaction in the in the renter finding process, since they charge for references, holding fees, etc etc etc. Except in Scotland, where fees are banned.

So rents rise. They keep on rising. Or do they? I still think the problem is recording rents ‘asked for’ rather than rents achieved. Basically, some rentiers try it on, and letting agents are worse - they pull fantastical rents out of the ether. They make them up. These numbers then appear on internet sites, and become reported as the going rate.

Rents rise because rentiers still exercise their ‘right’ to rise rents whenever it suits them, and because nothing exists to rein in their excesses – no mechanism is available to control their greed. Where demand is high they charge what they wish. They see ludicrously inflated rents as beneficial to their eternal quest to be ‘debt free’ ‘mortgage free’ or simply rich Rich RICH and fervently believe this ambition is attainable. Tenants fall victim to this delusion, because they have their rents hiked to insure this. And if they can’t pay they’re described as losers.

Wise rentiers value longer tenancies and nurture relationships with their tenants because they realise that while letting agents insist rents should and must rise annually, owners lose more money with costly voids and under-occupation. Some agents even include automatic annual rises in rental agreements.

Rents rise because some people, especially small-scale buy-to-let rentiers, see rising rents as a good thing, much as they do house prices. They impose misery of rents rising every six months, as they can with impunity.

Now society is trapped in a groove, with property price rises viewed as good for the economy, despite evidence to the contrary. It’s odd, but even when people are saving hard to buy homes for their families and for their future, property rises are seen as universally an excellent thing. I now suspect that excessively elevated, ramped up rents are also seen cause for celebration.

Rents are not rising everywhere. They rise where supply is restricted, especially in London, and oddly Warwick. Where the world is sane, and housing is not inherently problematic, rents are not racing to the sky.

Rents are rising sixteen per cent per year. Social security does not reflect this – Local Housing Allowance rises at one per cent per year. So in places where homes are scarce, prices explode and benefits sink. Brilliant. This means that even rents in less desirable properties, euphemistically described as ‘affordable’ where people on no/low incomes rushed to live, become rare and prices rise.

Why do actual rents rise? That’s easy. Rents rise because they can. Because we let them. Because we are immune to the scandal. Because everybody, even the wonderful Shelter, oppose rent controls, although the notion is starting to gain popularity. The idea that people can just charge whatever they want for such an essential item is stupid, and damages us all.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Renting Getting Nasty.

I’ve been perusing my statcounter again, the widget that lets me check search terms used by yourselves to find me, and oh - what joy there is to be found. My favourite was this gem, ‘I fucking hate my whining tenants.’

The assault on social housing via the bedroom tax is just one example of the way tenants are viewed as lesser forms of life than richer, home or other property owning mortals.

But let’s be fair – some tenants, a minority, whine. They think rentiers can, and indeed must teleport over pronto to open sticky kitchen drawers. They are mercifully few and far between.

Meanwhile a few benighted tenants are being shot, unlawfully evicted, or housed on sheds. More commonly tenants endure constant insecurity. Worse still, they now face being evaluated on dubious cowboy referencing sites, appraised negatively for having the audacity to ‘smell of drink,’ be claimants or unemployed, for daring to ask for repairs, or have the misfortune to live under the jackboot of a rentier who frankly does not like the cut of their jib.

These sites are astonishing. They insist that tenants must list any ‘identifying marks,’ and state if they are disabled. Commentors share their intention to deny housing to various ethnic groups. It’s existence is legally and morally weak. Or just plain nasty.

But there are many people desperate or sufficiently ill-informed, and probably too scared, to refuse to hand over their personal details. How will this information be stored, how safely are details checked and kept, who will be allowed access? The answer it seems, is anyone who pays.

I do not like these ‘hate’ sites, for rentiers or tenants. They formalise and publicise grudges, with no right of reply: I prefer sites where rentiers and renters rate each other, with a mutual likelihood of respect and fairness, not charging rentiers for access to un-checked slurs.

Rentiers frequently forget that letting property is a business, with human beings at the heart - flawed organic beings, who grow old, get ill or have accidents. Tenants fondly imagine that they pay for a total service, not just the honour of insuring the rentier’s pension, so they can just sit still to watch the property bubble inflate and float away again.

Renters amble on with life, ducking some quite awful treatment. Some – mostly small-time, inexperienced - rentiers wish to avoid due process, so evict tenants by secret handshakes or telepathy, whenever they want, no matter how unfair. Then they laugh at tenants for their human foibles, like being mentally ill, or enduring low pay.

The other challenge faced in this increasing torrent of bile is dodgy bailiffs. They offer to circumvent proper solicitors, and their fees, but also – their expertise. They offer ‘fast action’ on ‘unwanted’ tenants, when they ‘fast-track’ vacant possession.’ Every cold euphemism hides a cruel illegal act.

Renting is already expensive, insecure and belittling for adults seeking an actual home. Police – unless properly trained and instructed, often take the side of the freehold owner during illegal evictions. It’s increasingly like dodge city. Occasionally with real bullets.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Ask Auntie Rentergirl (Redux)

I’ve been sent another request for advice from a reader. I am not a debt advisor, nor am I legally qualified, so I’ll just put this out there:
‘In 2011 I graduated from university and to cut a long story short the shock of leaving university, struggling to find a job and being with the wrong person resulted in me failing to pay credit cards, phone bills and water bills which resulted in a CCJ and generally getting my finances in a real mess.
Roll on two and a half years I have secured a great job, met the love of my life and made real progress to becoming debt free (not a single default since May 2011) and I paid the CCJ off within three months of it being issued.

We are currently living in a privately rented house share however in the near future we would like to move into a small rented home for two. Just one problem I am petrified of approaching letting agents which require a credit check. I suppose what I am asking is will my poor finances really prevent us from renting - I have always paid my rent on time and all of my other bills have been paid on time for the past two years? How should I approach letting agents? Are there any really good ways of finding a private landlord?

You advice would be invaluable!’

The answer is – yes, it will cause you problems. Before you say it – ‘wants to move’ isn’t whimsical, but part of exercising the right to family life, and yes – it is a right. This problem is worsened by letting agents, who now farm out ‘credit checking’ to pricy outsourcing companies, so that some people in my correspondent’s situation don’t stand a chance. Remember, life is messy, and people make mistakes. This doesn’t mean they should forever be refused one of life’s essentials – that is, an appropriate home.

I’ve said it before hereabouts, but bankruptcy is surprisingly widespread. There are times when people simply can’t cope with what life is throwing their way, and they buckle. Must they be punished forever, and should they be punished at all? Do not judge – anyone could find themselves in this situation.

This person has paid off their debts – debts which can be incurred by anyone. What’s more, there are often two sides to any story – what seems like tenants doing a runner could be aggressive owners harassing vulnerable tenants into quitting.

Young people do some daft stuff, and hopefully they learn. Or people become ill, or disabled. Here however, the debt is paid. Remember that in times of economic crash, unemployment and cuts, this situation will become ever more common.
So do I have any advice? Sort of… First of all – try making your own ad, maybe on the can of worms that is Gumtree, openly and honestly stating your circumstances. There might be one humane, realistic landlord who thinks – ‘…there but for fate walk I.’ Indeed – there but for fate tread most of us.

Mindful of the low level of checks rentiers must endure before they let out homes, I’d suggest finding a guarantor, or – and I hate this - paying six months upfront, if the cash is available. Do not judge – anyone could find themselves in this situation. So, people - any more constructive advice, or ideas?

(NB – trolls will be deleted.)

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Six Monthly Makeover.

I have an idea for yet another make-over show. It’s for rented homes, and will have a glamorous celeb finding drama and poignant stories while renovating a rented home – but there’s no warm fuzzy ending to gladden our hearts.

Recently, the BBC requested my thoughts on renting – now permanent reality for many, and how to make it less, well – crap. They misinterpreted some of my suggestions, listing ‘get rid of clutter.’ Nothing major, but I’d said something stronger. I’d said get rid of any extraneous possessions.

Making your home look fantastic, rendering it comfortable is a challenge when you might have to up and move at least once per year, maybe every six month, and furniture is included. One rentier even chose paintings, and had them screwed to the wall making it harder to change them. It’s like living in a show home, only all the furniture is faded and shredded.

The first trick is to discard any superfluous possessions. Keep only what you can imagine lugging up and down three flights of stairs, alone. I’ve disposed of my vinyl. I was once a music journalist, so some of it was tasty, even valuable, but I just couldn’t carry those bags anymore. Ipods are so useful here, but yes – it’s hard. Tenants can’t afford to be hoarders.

The point was made in posts and comments that rentiers should not refuse the reasonable request to decorate, especially if tenants paint the walls greige again when the vacate. Take pictures to record your actions is my advice, protecting yourself from deposit slicing letting agents.

Other than that plants, and pictures, what can you do? Trying to make proper home, which is pleasant attractive and personalised matters – you spend time there, and owners are more concerned with resilience than beauty.

Try providing small items of your own manageable furniture like desks (why do owners so rarely provide them, even in student lets?) Make sure they are portable – you can load some onto roof-racks, and when in the revolving doors of in/out renting – this matters.

Blinds and curtains help, and there’s nothing to stop you removing then safely storing those vile, threadbare drapes, replaced when you leave. Or bettering what was supplied by owners like the ones who provided blinds that stopped half way up.

My pet hate is old tiny wardrobes. I prefer rails, from shop-fitters – easy to carry, any wardrobes filled with boxes, books and mouldy old curtains. You could also buy at least one comfy chair, even in a furnished home, at least second hand.

The worst part is carpets. Mouldy, stained, smelly and defiantly maroon, they usually come with huge sofas that ‘ping’ every time you sit, which you can cover in cloths or blankets.

I’ve said it before, but continental renting is usually unfurnished allows for decorating. It’s true that tenants stay longer, and put the walls back as they were, but personalising your home is accepted. Renting can be so dispiriting. Fitting your entire life into one van every few months is humbling. Let us paint.