Sunday, 20 July 2014


In certain places, rents are out of control. Mostly in London of course, but also cities and towns such as Aberdeen and Warwick – historically beautiful locations where building is controlled or limited. Rents here increase so fast and by so much that renting a home will soon be out of reach (buying a place is already impossible for many).

Even renting in what used to be considered the badlands of London (districts marked ‘Here be dragons’ on the A-Z) is just a fleeting, distant dream. You can tell by the number of tanning salons and betting shops that these so-called affordable areas are... challenging. Add the cost in time and money of all that travelling to and from work, and living is as expensive as in more central locations.

Sadly and inevitably, rising prices have unintended consequences. People need homes but must pay these scandalous rents, and so, when pay is low and work scare and precarious (it still is – despite the tory myth of recovery) renters wrangle for cash to keep a roof over their head.

But the low supply/high demand model explains the game of poker forced on prospective tenants. It’s The Price Is Right but twisted (higher...Higher!...HIGHER!!!!) as letting agents see how brazenly they can ramp prices.

But now innovative cruel scourges scar the lives of already impoverished renters.

By which I mean scams like the dire and discredited ‘Rent to Let’. Here, owners let a property but someone (often without the owners knowledge and consent) sublets the flat or house, converting lounges and even landings into rooms.

It usually ends badly. Tenants frequently have their rent collected but not passed on to the owner, and if the ‘chief tenant’ disappears, their right to stay is suspect.

Now there’s yet another rent ramping problem: the incursion and rise of Air B n’ B. What used to be a friendly and informal arrangement where owners could let a spare room to travellers, is now used to rent out entire flats as what are, in effect, holiday apartments. Tenants have few rights, and rentiers have few responsibilities.

I’m not surprised. This used to be the case in Dovecot Towers, where many flats were rented out short term. Here however, this was as ‘hotel apartments’ and the practice caused severe problems for residents, with many stag parties etc disrupting life with no way of stopping them

Until that is I visited the office of one company, and asked innocently whether my friend’s hen night party could rent a flat. It might be a loud – they could be ‘boisterous’ – would it matter? ‘No – that’s fine’, came the reply.


I explained I lived there, and that subletting was illegal (few owners knew that) and that they should stop. The agent’s face was a picture.

Now imagine that the only possibility of renting a home is fleeting, precarious and on a daily agreement. Or that you pay online and on arrival find your new ‘home’ is double booked. And you’re homeless.

I’ve always wondered what fresh hell inflicted on tenants will be the actual step too far. What will make us snap and storm the barricades with pitchforks. You know what? I think this is it.

(You might have read I am ending Rentergirl soon. I will post a farewell piece.)

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Cheap At The Price

This much we know for sure; where demand for rented homes is high, rents are racing upwards ever upwards. Elsewhere, i.e. the country know as Notlondon, rents do not rise so much.

We also know that the benefit cap and worse still, frozen rates of LHA combine to herd the low/no paid to the bottom of the renting heap.

All this combined means tenants race, frantically and desperately towards the lower end of the market, rushing to rent homes they might actually afford, which perversely perhaps means that demand is high in those cheaper areas.

Yes, some homes to rent are indeed cheaper. But, being naturally suspicious and believing that often, when things are cheap, they’re inexpensive for a reason, I always ask myself this question: why are these rented homes so cheap? Just what is about these places so ‘affordable’? What’s lacking – what’s missing?

The answer is simple. These low rent homes offer something different to those at the high end of the market.

1. Mould. They are full of mould. Plenty of mould, covering all surfaces. What do you mean mould is unhealthy and linked to respiratory illness? Jeesh – some people are waaaay too fussy.

2. Seen with my own eyes – no central heating or even no heating at all. ‘Well - it’s let unfurnished’ offered the letting agent (without laughing, since you ask.)

3. The thrill of knowing the owner plans to sell ASAP and then turf the tenant out. Hopefully with proper notice, but hey – perhaps not. Maybe you can stay a while.

4. The neighbourhood is really dubious, with feral documentary crews scared to enter. But they now insist the street is a dystopian fantasy, a TV set or Dickens theme park. Police vans riding round in convoy. But – yes, you might just afford the rent.

5. The schools are so bad that the UN is in control.

6. There are few transport links: no trams, trains or buses and nobody can afford a car. Buses appear only when the satnav plays tricks. Fares are expensive, which means a trip the supermarket is a costly treat, and outings must be planned like an invasion.

7. The neighbours. They’re interesting. And confrontational. And vocal. They debate with each other. Frequently.

8. The walls are rickety. I’ve seen this. They might actually move – especially the internal partitions, which can be made of cardboard or plaster board. That’s because the owner has added several teeny-tiny extra rooms.

9. The furniture. It’s broken, infested with vermin including fleas, and damp runs in torrents down the walls.

10. Some homes to rent are so cheap you could be forgiven for suspecting they might lack basic amenities. Like floors, for example. I’ve seen this – a low cost flat where the bathroom floor was about to cave in.

11. best of all – tenants here often find they have ‘interesting’ rentiers who are real ‘characters.’ I hate the term rogue landlords, but this lot abuse it. They stack tenants up like fish-fingers in a freezer and refuse even request for minor repairs. They threaten, menace and intimidate. How entertaining.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Army Life.

I owe this post to the excellent Digs: the action group campaigning
for better renting in Hackney (look them up, support them, follow them - they're brilliant.)

They were holding a public meeting about the private rental sector and invited the great, the good and the interested. They also seem to have invited someone less able to cope with whole tricky process of thinking.
Digs, you see, had invited a Tory councilor who seemed keen to prove just how out of touch the Tories really are. When discussions reached the nature of being a tenant, how insecure life is, how London tenants can be moved profitably on by rentiers and letting agencies every six months, and think themselves lucky if they remain in one home for three years, the civic representative refused to believe it was tough at all.

Digs proceeded to discuss how, after the initial agreement reaches renewal point, tenants live on a rolling contract and can be given just two months notice. The threat is constant; the fear is genuine.

This particular councillor was so stupid, it was clear she must have stockpiled most of the world's supply of stupid and was now hoarding all the stupid and using it herself, all the better to say stupid things. In short - she was stupid.

She claimed (I am spluttering as I write this) that being forced to move on every six months or so with just two months notice was no worse than being in the army, because soldiers are often forced to relocate at short notice.
I've just banged my head on the desk again whilst typing it. (I'm going to have to stop doing that whenever a tory says something stupid - I am forever in pain.)

Anyway...for a soldier, being housed is a certainty. There's no undermining sense that you, your family, and your children could be without a home, fall through cracks and end up in a B&B or a hostel if you can't find a place you can afford, or you can't find a guarantor, or you're on housing benefit.

Soldiers who are transferred abroad or home again, are guaranteed a home. If they are compelled to leave one house, they will be allocated another. They move around in the sure and certain knowledge that safe, secure home will be theirs at the end of their journey. No ifs. No buts. No matter who: single parents (rare but hey, it happens) families, singletons, everyone old or young will be housed. Simple.

What's more, there are strict rules about cleanliness of homes: they're scrubbed to military precision after relocation. It's scoured clean. Or else.

There's no finding another deposit or rent in advance upfront while the agent holds on to your current money. No van hire. No storage centres. The army does it.

So Ms. Stupid Tory Councillor: don't you dare... DON'T YOU DARE! tell tenants that moving within the UK’s rented sector is the same as army life. It isn't. It's just that being shot at is rare (but not unknown).

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Secret Hidden Homelessness.

It’s a tragic, hideous, inevitable, and scandalous but sure and certain fact that homelessness is rising everywhere.

Paradoxically, the causes are both simple and complex: there is a straightforward lack of homes with scant new building, in some areas of high demand rents are rising and those on no/low pay (even anyone on moderate wages) can’t cover their rent. Then we have the tyranny of no fault and revenge evictions, coupled with both the bedroom tax and the benefit cap.

It all adds to desperate people with nowhere to live, and to councils without council housing to place even those in need. There’s more to this than the ultimate, abject misery of rooflessness. There are many vulnerable people who are just about clinging on by their fingertips to having a roof over their head, with many, varied groups who live under the constant threat of being turfed out; in constant danger having nowhere safe to go:

1. Adult children outstaying their welcome, certain that the next row or even disagreement could see them shown t he door.

2. People whose relationship is over, but who are stuck in one home when they cannot afford to separate and each find somewhere new to live.

3. Tenants aware that their rentier (or so-called ‘forced landlord’) who couldn’t sell when in negative equity is itching to sell up and give them notice asap. They might only discover this when people call to ‘view’ their home. They will be given two months notice.

4. Those who gratefully endure a punitive, grinding chain of perpetual sofa-surfing, house-sitting, returning to stay with family at weekends or when work is slow and bleak, but who cannot present to local authorities as homeless due to having no local connection or insufficient ‘priority need.’

5. Homeowners who are behind with the mortgage, and who try so hard to keep up with agreements to pay the backlog but who are just not earning enough. They will wait until the day the bailiffs arrive and the stress is crippling.

6. Those who know they can be bedroom-taxed when their adult child leaves home, but who can’t downsize.

7. Tenants in areas of high demand (especially London) who read property sites in terror, bracing themselves for the horrendous rises in rents and house prices, keenly aware that their home is not a home but an asset to be sold on to the highest bidder whenever possible. There is no such thing as a sitting tenant in these circumstances anymore. They’ll be out in two months.

8. People who work on short term contracts with insecure jobs and low precarious pay, who know that few bad weeks will put them behind.

They’re not quite homeless. Not yet homeless. Not yet out on the street. But inevitably they will be out. A home is a right not a privilege. So just imagine how difficult daily life is, for the worried people who make up this enormous social group: pity the soon to be homeless.

Monday, 19 May 2014

This Is Why We Hate Them

Letting agents wonder why we loathe them so vehemently; why we hate them with passion. They ask why anyone would introduce laws to control them. Commiserations then to English readers, who just last week lost the chance for laws similar Scotland, where fees and premiums charged to tenants are outlawed.

Soon come, as my friend used to say. In the meantime, here’s my list of the cheekiest, most corrupt, vile, venal, heinous fees I’ve seen. So far…

1. The admin fee ruse. One mercifully former letting agent charged this. When I queried it, he explained, knowing it was unlawful, that his firm needed to run their office. I explained that I needed to pay for my removal costs. He dropped the fee from £150 to £75.

2. Reference fees. This ruse purportedly covers the onerous task of phoning or emailing previous rentiers, current employers and banks. Except all are pointless and in any case they rarely pursue them. Licence to print money, basically.

3. Holding fees. Supposed to remove the home from the market while tenants are checked, the money deducted when tenants pay deposits. In reality, they are often retained.

4. Cleaning fees. Tenants moving in or out both face this one, which again might be for work not completed. Tenants would do well to request receipts and then check.

5. Check in fees. This pays for the debilitating, strength-sapping chore of handing over keys. Keys are heavy, don’t you know.

6.See also their equivalent in the other direction – the ‘check out fee,’ same scam but with the added threat of deposits withheld if they’re not paid.

7. Inventory fees. My own Landgirl discovered to her cost, this involved outsourced employees who visited the flat, did nothing then billed for their 'work'. Brilliant.

8. The fee. Let’s not be too complicated, one agent thought. Let’s not be fancy, or use obfuscatory terms. Let’s just call the fee ‘the fee.’ Without any explanation whatsoever.

9. The continuous affordability assessment fee. This thing of logical beauty hypothesises that the tenant pays every six months to see if they can afford the home. The letting agent whose firm tried this one described her behaviour as ‘a game.’ Oh I sued them so bad.

10. The fee – it is in effect a fee or premium – when ‘costs’ were demanded by the letting agent who overcharged my friend when he demanded a refund for overpayment caused by their ineptitude. He sued. Successfully. Blimey.

11. Renewal fees. Tough work this. Those poor exhausted letting agents must carry several sheets of paper over to the photocopier, then lift the lid. Modern servitude with hard labour, that’s what it is.

12. This last one never stops giving. The finance fee. Yep. The fee charged by one brazen operative for collecting all their other fees. Which is dastardly and fiendish, but soon to be illegal.

NB these are frequently levied on both parties to transaction – rentiers and tenants, which is banned in other industries such as the travel business.

Be brave – stay strong. It won’t be allowed for much longer. No to transparency. Yes to the ban on charges.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Scared To Leave.

The many negative effects of renting are well known and often shared hereabouts. Firstly, there’s the constant insecurity, then the ever present threat of revenge evictions or being given no fault notice, and the possibility of uncontrolled rent increases.

But here’s a new fear: the abject fear of leaving.

Some time ago my friend landed in renting clover. He found a reasonable (ie fairly priced) one-bed home (for some reason, they’re rare around these parts) which is let by a friendly, lovely, supportive professional rentier. The flat is unfurnished, which allows him to select his own furniture and make the place more like a home. He’s been allowed to decorate to his own taste (the owner will paint it when he re-lets it, as used to be the case…) It’s also insulated, warm, well-located and the neighbours are nice.

It sounds perfect. So what’s the problem?

Well, he’s been offered an amazing, life enhancing work opportunity. Not permanent, not much more pay, but it would entail moving for a while. So he’d need to give up his valued, desirable rented home (he can’t sublet – he’s asked.)

This also means that on his return, he’d need to go back ‘out there’, back into the badlands, stumbling through the jungle to find another place to live, that is another home that’s just as nice. Which he knows will be impossible.

Much is claimed for the positive side of renting; the freedom that being a perpetual tenant allows. Life is purportedly flexible, fun loving and free. The sense of liberty is supposed to enable moving on when required; to take advantage of opportunities or up sticks if the home doesn’t suit. If only this was true.

In reality, moving around is costly, with letting agencies actively conspiring to hold onto deposits despite their being registered in a scheme, and then there are references from rentier and letting agent who can’t be bothered, are peeved you’ve moved on, or refuse to provide one without being paid (yep – agencies do this.) There’s also storage, vans etc.

If renting was better controlled, if renting was more certain and standards were high, with the rules transparent and efficiently enforced, renting would then be worthy of celebration for the sense of freedom it allows. But quality of varies so much. Buildings are amazing in some places and mostly hovels are found elsewhere.

Instead, my friend faces a debilitating and uncertain future if decides to relocate. He’ll be battling with demonic letting agents and feral rentiers. He will need to sneak under the wire of discrimination (he’s older and self-employed) all the while knowing that wherever he lives next could be the personal fiefdom of a rentier who governs with an iron rule, runs everything on a shoestring and resents the time involved in the business of renting.

This limits life choices for all tenants. People need certainty. Certainty will only happen if standards in the private renting sector are enacted in law, applied and enforced with funded penalty enforcement for transgressions.

Because right now, there’s no such thing as a dream rented home. It’s just a distant, transient luxury.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Hooray For Labour – Sort Of.

So kind lovely Labour have realised that renting is horrible. As I've been saying hereabouts, renting is often a hideous experience because of the inherent insecurity, lack of stability, aka no control at all.

But the wonderful Labour care about us! Hooray!

So what are their plans?

Well, best of all they will copy the tried and tested Scottish model of no letting agent fees whatsoever at all payable by tenants. Landlords can cough up – it’s their business, they reap the profits, they must cover the expenses. No problem there.

Next – no above inflation rent rises, the notable exception being current buy-to-let mortgages and that’s one heck of an exception. Then rents rises can match inflation – no higher. Where it applies that’s mostly brilliant news.

The downside is that tenants will need to be strong (if not downright tough) when negotiating their initial rental price, because owners will know they are, in the future, limited to no more than inflation matching rises. The unintended consequence could be rising rents, ramped up at the first stage to defeat the ceiling. Hmmm...

Three year tenancies – also better. But not perfect. It’s not enough, really is it? Families need decades, to be able to remain in their home (and please can start to say home and not 'the property'?) for schools, supportive family etc. The business of letting out property is not for those in it for short term gains (no matter how hard they want this to be the case.)

Owners will only be able to evict tenants for transgressions such as lengthy rent arrears and anti-social behaviour. But in these new plans, rentiers can also state they need the property for family use or intend to sell up. Details are scarce, but it's easy to sneak and weave your way out of. It's what rentiers do already. To be effective and protective, this coda must enforced, with actual evidence produced to confirm either is true.

What's more, mortgage providers must idelly be compelled to remove their blanket prohibition on renting to claimants. There is no justification; it's simple prejudice - nothing more.

My other gripe? It's obvious, but this gesture by is quite cynical. Do Labour care about tenants? Not really. They care for our votes, which hardly makes them unique for politicians - 'politicos in obvious vote-candy gesture.' It's what they do.

So here's the thing. Labour have woken up to and aim to cater for the needs of tenants. But we need more. Tenants are not supine, cowed poodles, begging desperately for tiny tit-bits of luke-warm good news.

We were a sleeping giant - a monster newly conscious of our power. Now we know now how important we are and have grasped that in many marginal seats our vote is crucial. We will bestow our favours to those who listen and help us (that is put right the many wrongs we endure.)

And those who do not help, break their promises or ignore us?

Let us down we will bite back - we will bite you hard.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Germans Bitten

I recently spent a fascinating few days with a group of artists and designers, some of whom had travelled from Germany. We discussed art, design and vegan food in Glasgow (it’s odd, but we have more vegan restaurants here than anywhere else). Then leisurely we spoke of cabbages (Kohle) and also kings (Konigen).

Since I was present, we naturally compared stories of renting in our respective countries. I have in the past hereabouts cited Germany as some sort of renting heaven, due to their long tenancies and freedom to adapt their home (decorate and provide their own furniture since homes are empty of anything.)

But it’s worse than reported. Not because of the design or nature of the housing (which are often lovely, sometimes mediocre, occasionally terrible.) No; things in Germany are getting worse, it seems because of a newish phenomenon – rigorous, strict credit checks.

Like many Europeans, low pay, insecurity and precarious employment is a major problem. Germans seek what are known as ‘400 Euro jobs’ because to be paid over that amount entitles them to employee health insurance (amazingly Germany has no NHS i.e. universal, free at the point of delivery health care.)

Combine low pay and insecurity with the horror of computers saying no; where tenants submit to legions of strict and exhaustive checks, such as bank references – everything on the usual roll call of exhaustive ‘proof’ that we in the UK long ago learned to loathe.

Intriguingly the response is remarkably similar to our own. Put simple, they fiddle the results.

Friends who own companies or work at larger firms are asked to provide written references on headed notepaper or otherwise support claims of working full time. More extremely, some forge wage slips and conjure up bank statements, or back up invented and inventive claims of long term, well paid freelance contracts.

If Germans have even the slightest red mark on their all important credit rating, as is the case here in the UK it’s fatal to their application. In short, the system here and in Germany encourages supplicant tenants to lie, cheat, deceive, forge and obfuscate (which, when you think about is one hell of an unintended consequence.)

But the problem is the emergence of the usual suspects: those parasitic industries which corrupt a once straightforward process, feeding off tenants who pay for the privilege of their own references, while landlords harvest the benefits (sometimes they pay for references all over again.)

The result is that stricter referencing leads to greater creativity in bypassing the checks. Strict referencing does not end risk for owners – there will always be risk (tenants can die, lose previously secure work, or become ill). Owners are often also charged even if tenants have already paid for checks which take minutes to complete and are palpably oh-so simple to undermine.

Remember when we used to view homes, pay deposits then move in if we liked the place? Those were the days. But just because they’ve checked us over, defaults, abandonments and flits etc are just as common as before, while online credit checkers and inventory specialists are richer. Go figure.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Seven Years Here.

So it’s my blog’s birthday. Rentergirl is still here. Now we are seven, and I’m still furious.

I have enough subject matter; in fact there’s plenty. I thought I’d run out of material within a few weeks. Sadly, renting is still mostly terrible, so I’m still here.

Best news first - there are some good things happening. Tenants who were previously just angry are now getting organised, forming action committees, completing and then sharing their own research. This more than anything else fills me with hope.

These tenant advocacy groups are increasingly professional, with EPTAG IN Edinburgh, and Generation Rent countrywide, with groups in London where renting is woeful if not downright harrowing. There is the heinous rent-to-rent, where cowboys promise rentiers they will have no voids in occupation, but then run away with the money from re-renting rooms. Or tenancies auctioned with sealed bids.

Which means that wise politicians pay heed to, or actively court renters, and the wisest will encourage and facilitate voter registration, concerned with tailoring manifesto commitments to reflect not just our needs, but our power.

The dreams of hopeful renters are simple: rent control, security, longer tenancies and an end to revenge evictions. For the first time, I am relatively confident that one, if not everything on that list will be achieved.

Sadly, there are some truly bad things happening. Rising homelessness is one, caused directly by Lib Dem supported (and lest we forget, Labour endorsed) Tory social security cap, which as I write this, is causing even the mythical, iconic ‘hard-working families’ to be frog marched out of London – where the jobs are - to wherever the homes are.

The UK’s PRS is broken, especially in London. People are moved away from where their support – in the form of child care, education, training and part time work, which could lead to full-time work, is located. It’s cruel, pointless and distressing.

Victims have homes but live in isolation, expected to be not simply glad, but speechless with gratitude. Cue clueless Eton mess.

There’s the fact that people accepted as homeless, but when still vulnerable and poor are no longer placed on waiting lists for social housing, but batted right back to the now infamously dysfunctional PRS, prey to evictions and uncontrolled rents.

The bedroom tax I was dreading last year is every bit as bad as we thought. Apparently, those clueless Tories assumed affected tenants would pay and stay, not fight to remain. Blimey. These plebbish povs must be dining on foie gras wrapped in gold leaf. The first evictions, with babes in arms are imminent.

In other news, letting agents still exist. Just. For now. Increasing numbers of online portals will inevitably replace them. The sooner the better, because they’re increasingly brazen.

One small but important victory – the word ‘landlord’ is being rapidly replaced with the less aristocratic ‘rentier.’

There is some cause for more joy. I rent my home from an amazing rentier, or ‘Landgirl,’ as she prefers to be called. I know she reads this, so I’d like to say thank-you. It’s not all bad. Just most of it.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Who Houses The Homeless?

If ever I wonder what hateful people think, I head straight for my search term counter. Mindful that I cannot unsee the horror, I brace myself for an onslaught of cruel and unusual bigotry in the form of statements such as ‘I force girls,’ or troubling comments on my unintentional SEO bait blogpost about rubber gloves.

Then come the truly hideous questions about how to throw tenants onto the streets without notice.

But sometimes my dwindling faith in humanity is reanimated by questions like this – ‘How do I give a homeless person somewhere to live?’

I’m glad someone out there is so kind, because not many people will house those formerly roofless. This is mostly due to erroneous perceptions about ‘the homeless’. Not everyone on the enormous list of those turning to councils for help are chaotic, disruptive, a risk, nor did they bring the situation on themselves. There but for fate walk you and I.

As for the common prejudice about drug use well… if I’d spent Winter sleeping outside I would hoover up any medication offered to me, legal or not, as, dear reader, would you.

Furthermore, when in the process of setting life back on track, we’d be lacking the litany of references required – employer previous landlord, banks, and wouldn’t have the vital six weeks upfront or months deposit.

Some councils help. They underwrite tenancies, act as guarantors, overseeing tenancies then liaising with owners. The Social Fund and Crisis loans from The DWP are long gone, replaced by pay day loans, so this help is essential.

Hostels are oversubscribed. If you’re recovering from mental illness or substance addiction issues, this complicates housing even more. This time is the most extreme form of gap year – months spent in recovery, or looking for work must be explained away to those who might judge you and so refuse to house you.

The next hurdle is the race for housing within limits set by benefit caps, or local housing allowance, which limit where poor people without problems, not just those with chaotic backstories are permitted to live.

People without homes are no longer given priority in social housing, but sent straight into the hellish private sector badlands and left to fend for themselves. They have just six months safety. Renewal time comes round so fast.

Perhaps some people could share houses with rent paid in return for care or support; I know schemes like this exist, but they need to be patrolled or regulated, so can be expensive. Still; better than a bench.

Yes, I know that some people are homeless after disruptive or abusive or criminal behaviour, but they’re a minority. Most people simply undergo challenges like unemployment or relationship breakdown, then mental health problems – the three horsemen of homelessness.

So we need some enlightenment – more people like the person who inspired this post. Yes, let’s be realistic – kindness is never simple. But since it’s so easy for anyone to fall between the cracks, we need to be more prepared to accept that anyone – literally anyone could end up on the streets.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Is It Really So Bad?

Most recent studies about renting indicate that mostly – all is well. Tenants are happy. Renters stay as long as they choose then move on because they’ve found somewhere better or cheaper.

This blog is anecdotal (or more accurately: auto-ethnographic) but it’s still highly persuasive. Because of my past experiences and those of the people who contact me I know that many tenants endure a terrible time.

Accordingly, the statement ‘Oh come on – it’s not really that bad is?’ makes my blood boil.

The argument is that renting in the UK’s PRS can’t be so horrible, because otherwise, renters would move or buy somewhere, wouldn’t they?

These same idiots then add their own selective anecdotes – or rather urban myths: ‘Oh, my friends have lived in the same beautiful rented home for years/have an amazing to the point of angelic landlord/ pay peanuts to live in a mansion.’ So clearly I am making all this stuff up.

Well, no. Like nonagenarians who smoke eighty cigarettes per day, an idyllic renting life says nothing about those stuck living in a rented nightmare. The two situations of perfection and horror are not mutually exclusive; the perfection scenario is a statistical outrider.

Those surveys which purportedly revealed the blissful happiness of tenants are mostly discredited because of inadvertent bias, in that they seek to satisfy a desired outcome which influences how they were framed, the questions asked or chosen interviewees.

However, more recent surveys by serious official organisations reveal the many problems faced by tenants. At the bleaker end of renting there are some terrible conditions – from mould, damp, severe to minor disrepair such as broken heaters, leaking roofs, smashed windows and no insulation. In many places, this is everyday normality.

In renting purgatory, life is forever tenuous and insecure. Tenants exist with no idea of when they will be forced to move on with just two months notice since no-fault evictions are the reality.

There are also what I term ‘just in case notices.’ Letting agents issue notice to quit but try their luck when asking for a rent rise whilst advertising the property (which remember is the occupant’s home). If nobody bites, then they’ve covered all bases; if the renter refuses the increase, they could stay... or they could be forced to go. It’s horribly undermining.

We have revenge evictions, where even the most polite and diplomatic request for vital repairs is met with a notice to quit and no work done.

Then there’s wrecked furniture, broken locks, shoddy fittings and white goods, wrecked relics placed on the inventory, vermin and flooded ceilings. There are tenants who know if they attempt their own temporary or permanent fix, they could (and yes - oh ye cynics – this happens) face deposit deductions for mobilising their own vital remedial work.

Yes, the minority are ecstatically happy, the middle rump are in a sort of Stockholm syndrome of gratitude for even borderline contentment and the remainder live in sheds and hovels.

So yes – renting really is that bad. We should all be appalled.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Tenants Will Come To A Party.

Now is the time for all good parties to come to the aid of the tenant.

Does anybody out there care? Politicians must wake up to renters, because right now, across the board there is too much empty, extended, obfuscatory rhetoric with several ‘consultation processes’ in progress but no actual help. Tellingly, this year’s budget helped older, richer voters. There’s the clue – voters: people who vote. The consensus is that renters don’t vote and so do not count.

This renders tenants invisible; it’s as if we don’t exist. Some renters move so frequently that the simple act of maintaining their place on the electoral register is a challenge.

The Tories and their Libdem servants legislate for and represent landlords (here the aristocratic term is, I think for once, worth using) but then many MP’s of all parties are rentiers. I doubt they will abandon self-interest and enact laws to end revenge evictions (where tenants are given notice for requesting vital repairs, no matter how necessary.)

Most importantly, we won’t be entitled to longer tenancies; consequently, our insecurity endures.

Tenants are varied. We come from all classes, ages and lifestyles. We’re not simply young people waiting to buy. We are divorced dads who did not stay in the family home. We are single people. We move on short term contracts to wherever the work is. Bankruptcy in the recession caused some owners to lose their house; they now rent homes in penury.

Elsewhere tenants are ‘forced landlords’ unable sell their house, who rent for the freedom to move without a chain. Renters include those in sheltered housing, impoverished bedsit dwellers and those forced out of social housing into the costly, problematic PRS because of the bedroom tax.

My own former landlord was a tenant simultaneously, since he rented his flat to me so that he could complete a work project in a peaceful, rented haven beside the seaside.

Tenants might be students, who could be rich or very poor: from those whose parents buy a home to let to their children and friends for the duration of their studies, to those in rat infested hovels.

Some renters are rich. Really rich. They rent while in the process of moving, having sold their mansions. Others are starving and rent out sheds from those rare but attention-grabbing rogues.

Tenants are old, young, middle-aged and many have children. All have one thing in common – they are shocked by the lack of rights (including price controls) and by being treated as if we don’t matter.

Labour did mention rents in their budget response, so I wonder if they’re slowly noticing the many people housed in the private sector and that potentially we hold real power? The Tories do not care. They believe we do not vote.

Somebody should campaign to encourage renters to join the electoral register and then to vote, speak to us nicely and address our needs. Perhaps then tenants could come to the aid of a political party, by voting for whoever helps them.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Affordable Rent?

Such a good idea, those affordable home things, mentioned so frequently by politicians and campaigners. They're brilliant. They're brilliant because, well it's obvious isn't it? People can afford to pay them. Can't they?

But here’s the problem. Define affordable. What I can afford to pay is very different to what a Russian oligarch can find behind the sofa or on the table by the door. Rich people can afford to pay a lot. Poor people; not so much.

Affordable rent certainly isn't 80% of market rents. This is the new bar introduced by the Tory's very own village idiot in residence Grant Shapps (he makes stupid people feel ever so clever.) It's just that when market rents in London are rising so fast and so high I need oxygen to look them up, the whole phrase is meaningless and pointless (just like Shapps, actually.)

Social housing used to be well-built, secure (until the bedroom tax, tenants could stay forever) and within reach of everyone. Now there are moves to force social housing providers to charge 80% of market rents for housing association homes. Claimants who rent soon find out that under local housing allowance (paid, let's not forget to those on low, not just no pay) 'affordable' is dictated by whimsical notions of local average rents, which can be one price on one side of the road; different on the other.

LHA sets a limit on how much rent is covered by benefits, and the level is very low - so much so that properties priced within the limits are sometimes in great demand. This exemplifies the law of unintended consequences.

Which means that if you rent, and lose your job, your hours are cut or you fall ill after having lived in a 'nice' area - close to where children go to school, near jobs and transport links, you could be penalised. Councils cling to their Discretionary Housing Payment budgets like your granny did her pension purse, so claim it but don’t expect too much. If you don't earn more money or find a job, you will have to move. Which, as I repeatedly argue here is never easy: vans, fees, storage, fares... it all adds up.

Which means that affordable means whatever owners can get away with, or the sum that agents cajole them into demanding. For many people, boom times, recovery or resurgence are far away. Life is precarious and insecure with zero hours contracts, extended probationary periods and the tenant threatened with redundancy.

Affordable for those with several low-paid jobs, corralled into dubious self-employment, with the threat of universal credit (if it ever comes in) makes life unbearably tenuous for everyone. Affordable must be reset. It must mean a proportion of average pay, and pay is falling in real terms. Because maybe then, those huddled in fear at the bottom could afford to live in nicer places.

Affordability will change drastically if you lose your job. But if rents start to become more realistic, then life will settle down, tenants will enjoy security; they will be less likely to move, meaning no voids for owners. True affordability leads to stability, and in housing stability equals happiness.

Monday, 10 March 2014

All Aboard The Clipboard.

When letting agents inspect rented homes (which they do - quite a lot) they are known to arrive with a clipboard, laptop, tablet or even an old-school documentation facilitation device (ie a paper notebook and a pen.)

Next, they tetchily peruse the rented property by lifting up carpets, opening cupboards, peering under beds, even - in extremes - rifling through drawers. With practiced disdain they record what they see. If they don't see faults, they are openly disappointed, although it’s the state of the place when tenants leave that matters, even if it's a pigsty there and then.

I've often wondered what would happen if prospective renters pulled the same stunt during their first look. What if potential new occupants viewed a property with a stern, inquiring air, then showily noted all the problems, before asserting: '...I would move in, but I'm going to need that heater mending,' (after insisting the central heating is switched on so they can check.)

Or 'You will - of course - be removing those old, half-empty tins of paint from the one cupboard, I assume?'

Or 'I'd like you to draught-proof the front-door and letterbox.'

All perfectly reasonable requests.

In London, which is unique (a different planet, not just a different country where housing is concerned) this would have an instantaneous and disastrous impact. The viewing would end. All hope would be lost, since renters must be permanently prostrate with gratitude for so much as the chance to bid in an overheated renting auction.

But might help.

Tenants could thoroughly quiz the agent. Questions might be extremely intrusive; as intrusive, in fact as those posed by the agents as part of the moving in process: 'Do you plan to marry or have children?' apart from all the usual credit reference assurances. They would point out that the carpet needs replacing, or that the bath is chipped (so that the agent can't then try to claim the cost of an entire new bath from the tenants, as happened to me once.)

Incoming renters could insist the property is properly cleaned before they sign any agreements, then both parties could liaise on the inventory to the satisfaction of both. Tenants currently view rambling shared houses and dark, dusty flats during a resentful, obfuscatory, whistle-stop tour. They could well point out snags, only to be stonewalled by an agent amazed at such effrontery, such as when the stench of damp and visible water stains indicated a torrential leak from the flat above. The agent denied it. The vast, spreading plantation of mushrooms suggested otherwise.

Certain nay-sayers around these parts post comments saying: 'Why did you move in, if it's so terrible?' whenever I write about shoddy properties. They don't realise how hard it is to notice, let alone raise concerns when being hastily frog-marched round a flat with a strident agent in denial, who subsequently refuses to acknowledge problems, and then encourages owners to issue retaliatory notice when the tenant demands that catastrophic flaws are rectified.

But if that gaping hole in the bathroom floor had been ostentatiously recorded on a clipboard...Okay. I give in. The tenant still wouldn’t get the tenancy would they? They would be decreed ‘awkward.’ Still, it’s a lovely thought.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Renting Is A Feminist Issue.

Feminist website Vagenda recently discussed condensation in housing, which got me thinking about the affects of rented housing specific to women; if there are any…
Of course there are.

Firstly, women still earn less than men, have worse access to certain well-paid employment, are more likely to have part-time, insecure jobs, and suffered most when local government jobs were cut. This makes women much less able to withstand rent rises, or to access rented housing when prices, are soaring ever skywards.

The obvious difficulty is the danger of viewing properties alone. Try not to do this: invite someone along, phone before you enter the flat then check in and out. May I remind you of a friend shown round a flat by a landlord: 'This is the lounge, the kitchen - here's the bathroom.' Before he paused to add, with noted relish: '...and this will be our room.' She was out of there like a sprinter.

Let's also remember the landlord convicted of setting up hidden webcams in his female tenants' bedrooms. Of the landlord who abused his previously homeless young female tenants by demanding sexual services to let them remain. This is grim reading, isn't it? Historically, things have always been bad. One older tenant told me of being refused a rented flat with the words: 'Silly girl - you won't stay - you'll be married and out of here soon. Stay with your parents until then.'

Or the landlord not so long ago who specified female tenants in his ads, provided single beds, and was outraged when they requested proper, adult, double beds because '...he thought they were nice girls.' Of leering landlords who turn up grinning and gurning with a bottle of booze because '...we liked to party.' (My response? 'Party is NOT a verb but you are wanker.')

Of being roundly admonished during the dreaded inspection for being an 'incomplete women' or ruder words to that effect for not diligently polishing floors with the enthusiasm of Stepford Wives. Or chided for not being 'modern girls' by failing to perform repairs themselves, or told boyfriends should mend the leaks. Or being called bitches for standing up, calmly, knowledgeably and correctly for renting rights.

Renters encounter all the prejudices: racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia. Some tenants can tick 'all of the above'. Let's remember again and shudder once more the swine-ish landlord, who, discovering his tenants were lesbians, leered and asked 'to watch.'

Or of the woman of Nigerian extraction who chose to see entertainment when her landlord SHOUTED AND ENUNCIATED CLEARLY because her tenant was (eek!) a 'foreign, coloured girl' (despite being second generation, and born in Romford.) But then, at least she got to rent the place - many agents wouldn't have let her get that far.

Of course, this is 'everyday sexism.' It happens everywhere, all the time. But when I knew my friend lived in fear because her creepy landlord let himself in to her flat while she was in the shower, it's too close. It's raw. It's personal. How do we stop this?

Sunday, 23 February 2014


The magic moment is here. The third; perhaps the fourth date. Or the first…or whatever. You’re bringing someone home ‘to physically express your affection for them’.

You open the bedroom door.
Then you’re startled to hear: ‘Hello! Don’t forget – it’s your turn to take the bins out. Ooh – who’s your friend?’

Yep, it’s your actual room-mate. They’re still here, curled up in their single bed because they didn’t go out like they promised. Oh dear. Well, scrabble, it is then.

The word 'room-mate' has infiltrated UK English, because we watch so many US sitcoms. What stunned me was the fact that this actually means that the parties concerned share a room. Not a flat, or a house, but a bedroom. This is especially true of students.

Imagine the reality of two adults, not in a relationship, sharing a confined space with two dinky single beds. Think of the consequences. Of the effect on privacy, solitude, ownership of space; where to store things: secret things, personal things. Of nightmares, sleep and work schedules, coming in later and rising early. I can't imagine doing this. Ever.

A friend has shared a room (an actual room) for some months now. He first shared a bedroom when studying in LA, where that's the norm. He liked the experience, and after graduating, kept it up. His reasons are complex: firstly - cost, in that he saves money (although his two flatmates rent their own separate rooms.) The fact that rentiers routinely rent all rooms as bedrooms and covert lounges was a factor – if he didn’t share they wouldn’t have a communal sitting room. He also explained he appreciated the simple fact of some company. He is a really lovely man: open-hearted, happy, well-adjusted, straightforward, but confesses to tiring of the situation.

Another friend was sharing a large house in London, where two (straight) women shared not just a bedroom, but a bed. They were completely broke and saving up to travel, so the sacrifice was worth it, if only temporarily. I've heard of couples renting one room in a house-share, but they're usually desperately poor, and the effects on house dynamics (not least the crowded bathroom) are intriguing.

UK student housing providers would rather commission layers of cells, like a studious beehive, rather than have two pairs of renters share one room and then a group study/lounge/dining area combo. I have to say, I agree.

But the increasing infantilisation of tenants who claim social security, where anyone under the age of 35 is entitled to just the single room rate for local housing allowance, coupled with the threatened withdrawal of any payments whatsoever for those under 25 might, well lead to claimants being housed in dormitories, or work-programme barracks. Even soldiers past their training live in flats, these days, or so I understand.

But compelling unrelated adults into shared rooms is punitive to the point of being abusive. So don't let yourselves become softened up, worn down into accepting shared rooms. These rare volunteers might be just the start.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Losing Everything.

Most tenants are itinerant; inadvertent, perpetual nomads, moving from one home to the next, living the life kinetic, but with all the restless, roaming energy travels sideways and backwards, seldom does this endless journey progress forwards or upwards.

Some renters do enjoy moving, but these optimists are a rarity. When an assured short-term tenancy (accursed short-stay travesty) usually lasts for just six months (twelve if you're lucky) and is then rolled over if not fully renewed or ended, tenants generally have a maximum of four months in which to breathe before they could face being kicked out with two months notice. This precarious, fractured security is more than simply unsettling. It's also costly, with the regular hiring of vans, storage to find, upfront deposits, the infamous fees to letting agents and rent in advance to find.

Other costs are emotional but they also hit hard over time, especially the cost of replacing lost belongings after yet another move.

Such losses can be accidental. I once mislaid a bag of beloved clothes including a new dressing gown when I moved. To maximise profit and to save me money, the removal firm split their truck space between several people, and stuff was mixed up, irretrievably. I only lost stuff - I did not gain.

It's a distracting messy process, this relocation conveyor belt, no matter how hard you try to be organised. Perhaps worst of all is leaving stuff with friends to be looked after informally, assuming they will respect the value of what you own.

A friend told me how she lost everything (literally - everything) after travelling to the States for a temporary but amazing opportunity. In the meantime, her now former friends moved out and casually left her worldly goods behind, without a care. No insurance, no payback, no possessions and a series if wrecked friendships.

Storage can be expensive for those on no/low pay. Leaving baggage with family or in the attic of stable friends is inherently risky. Some other friends have had property damaged in floods, fire and break-ins.

Nobody escape the curse. The artist Marc Chagall lost all his early work when he left it with a friend in Paris during WW1. His paintings later appeared on the open market...

Like many renters, I operate a triage system for possessions: absolute essentials are taken with me when travelling. Valuables (if only to me) are left in official storage centres - costly, but worth it. I keep possessions to a minimum, but things like precious art works, made by friends are irreplaceable.

Mass made household goods are cheap to acquire, but dear to replace when lost in bulk. Bin bags burst during the move, with explosions of underwear veering across motorways. Soggy cardboard boxes cave in and smash all your crockery onto the pavement. Overburdened suitcases burst.

I've been told, callously to shrug off the loss. It's just 'stuff.' It's only 'things' - nothing more than 'possessions.' But to lose everything you own, including winter clothes or precious photos never stops hurting.

Sunday, 9 February 2014


‘Mummy, when I grow up I want to be a landlord.’

‘Well, study hard my child and maybe, just maybe, one day you might just get there.’

Nobody. Ever.

I have mentioned many times before that being a rentier is seldom a vocation. I doubt the scenario above has ever actually happened. A career as a rentier is, I suspect never mentioned by careers advisors, and does not appear in those bizarre job suitability or aptitude tests. The same is true for letting and estate agents, neither of which feature in feverish dreams of potential success, even if the latter usually requires a degree.

63% of private landlords admit having no prior experience of the industry. 94% are not in a professional letting body. In short – they’re amateurs, not even well-meaning ones.

These figures are truly appalling, but utterly unsurprising. The unmourned, mercifully now defunct ‘Inside Track’ seminars, which promoted deluded profiteering acquisition was the closest thing to training, but that’s long since discredited. The dominance of the terminally unskilled can mean that rentiers remain ill-informed about rules, regulations, customs, laws and bye-laws related to letting out homes. Just buy a house. Then rent it out. Erm… that’s it. Hooray!

Consequently, some newbies mistake bricks and mortar for a filigree crystal castle, constantly worried it will shatter, or that rough-hewn tenants will break it. They will be unaware of rules about deposits, licensing etc. They will do all the really bad things, such as turning up unannounced for too-frequent inspections, to the extent they let themselves in, or issuing notice to quit by power of thought alone and then wondering the tenant is still there. Etc. Etc…

Oddly perhaps, the opposite can be true. I wonder of owners could be too tolerant, on occasions fail ever to inspect, and then realise all too late that the dreaded cannabis farm is present. Or tenants have knocked the down dividing the lounge from the kitchen, like on the telly.

But what sort of education should career rentiers seek out? I suppose, a degree in business might be useful. Experience in customer relation is desirable, for those tempted to be rude or obstructive - basic money-saving home maintenance, too.

This matters because buy-to-let seems on the rise once more. I would not wish fresh faced dilettetantes and, well-meaning dabblers turned into wizened, world-weary cynics. I simply think they’d benefit from awareness of the pitfalls, responsibilities and problems.

For a home to be fit for letting out to paying tenants, it would be helpful for a mortarboard wearing tyrant to mark ‘pass or fail’ when presented with, for example, bathrooms fitted with tiles ready to harbour mould before tumbling down, or other faults which destroy the security, safety and happiness of occupants in the ‘investment.’

Which it isn’t. Nor are occupants ever really ‘customers.’ We’re tenants. It’s our home. Becoming a rentier should be a considered decision, more like a vocation than an inadvertent career. Because done badly by the ill-informed, it will ruin the lives of tenants and owners alike.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Where To Stick Your Bike

This blog has moved from writing about my previous, falling down home within the horror-scape of Dovecot Towers, on to the design of housing, to the nature of being a tenant, or rather the nightmare of renting, and dealing with letting agents, who are still the monstrous enemy at the door.

As for design, I’ve long thought that all homes should feature not just storage for, you know accumulated ‘stuff,’ but also sufficient space to keep a bike. Or bikes. Several bikes. Because, they’re cheap and green and cycling is the way forward.

Newbuilds should be mindful of this increased bike need. They’re often built just slightly too far away from city centres, and could even feature their own, special bike hire hub. Bike storage could be built into the entrance halls – or in basements, next to car parks.

Cycling keeps you fit and healthy – plus, it’s cheap. The only problem is finding somewhere to stash them, or to mend punctured tyres and paint them. It’s worse when visitors bring their own cycles when visiting you – especially if you live somewhere that’s not safe, and you must remove the wheels and lamps, etc.

*sighs, then weeps*

Oh, who I am kidding? I don’t care about bikes right now – there are so many more important problems and issues.

It shouldn’t be that social security cuts are affecting the housing situation as much as they are. But they are. And they’re hurting everybody. The benefit cap, then Local Housing Allowance which severely restricts where claimants can live – that is, right at the bottom of where it’s safe to live. By this I don’t mean ‘affordable’ – there’s no such thing.

I mean where it’s scary. Where CCTV points to the problem side of the road, where there are no bijou cafes, just tanning salons, ‘Turf accountants’ and pound shops. Where insurance costs are restrictive because crime is high. Nor do I mean edgy, trendy or arty.

Then there’s the whole of renting, of interminable references, credit checks, ‘affordability’ checks, one-off cleaning fees, fees to collect fees, all charged to both tenants and owners.

The previous post discusses the idea of intentional, vindictive inherent insecurity – of never really knowing how long you can stay.

The privately rented house is rarely a home. Why bother to unpack, when you can’t paint without knowing you must repaint possibly in six months time, and why buy nice household items when sooner rather than later they’ll be stored or dropped on the pavement by the kindly friend who’s helping you to move house again, for the umpteenth time in five years. If in London, you will be dreading rent rises, having no pension, keeping enough to one side, not for a deposit to buy a home but for the next deposit on renting one.

Yes, design matters. Storage is essential and bicycles are fantastic. Bike sheds outside, with safe secure areas to mend and keep them. But you know what, even with the mooted increase in private buy-to-let developments where these issues could be properly considered and catered for, right now there are so many other priorities.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Because We Want To

Imagine this: being refused entry to an open supermarket because it’s Wednesday. Or being denied the use of a road because the council, without justification, feel like it – or because you’ve got funny hair. Or being thrown out of a restaurant halfway through a meal because you asked, politely, for a clean fork. Or thrown off a train for being poor, and in 2nd class.

Not wishing to harp on about those damn Wilsons, but for me the most shocking part of the whole sorry tale is the fact they could evict their tenants because they want to. Much is made by Shelter, the various housing ministers and media about rogue landlords, when for me, the worst problem in the whole rented sector is the sense of insecurity.

It works this way. Tenants move in, and letting agents insist on a six month, assured short-term tenancy. Some – the minority – renew with another contract of similar length. If you’re really fortunate, you’re allowed a whole twelve months. But for others, the contract is not renewed – instead it’s ‘rolled over’. This means you don’t endure the continuous renewal fees payable in England, but the other effect is that occupants need only be issued with two months notice when the urge to turf them out strikes.

No-fault evictions are the bain of every tenant’s life. Rentiers commonly chuck out perfectly fine tenants because they can, and because they want to. No need for a reason – even if the secret, hidden cause is owners thinking they can earn more money, or that tenants have insisted on essential repairs, which is known as retaliatory evictions.

Where demand is high and supply limited, I’ve heard of occupants guessing that their lord and effective master is looking elsewhere only when the front door opens and prospective new occupants are shooed hurriedly around. Oh – and they’ve been texted to explain their task is to clean up and ‘be nice.’

This is all perfectly lawful (if a bit stupid) and tenants must even keep their heads down and be nice to avoid their seigneur cursing them with a bad reference. Landlords keep one eye on making more money, and even issue notice to quit, which is withdrawn if they fail to get a better offer. Yep – this happens, especially in property hot-spots.

This highlights another inherent problem with renting – that of amateur rentiers, who thrive on making sure their tenants i.e. the saps who subsidise their pensions or business portfolio are permanently on tenterhooks.

Precarious life, seeped in insecurity makes people ill. No fault evictions are wrong. They’re helpful to nobody – even landlords suffer. They facilitate prejudice, enhance insecurity, and are curse on long term plans. Simply losing your private sector home is now one the main causes of homelessness, and local council must pick up the pieces from the shattered lives caused by short termist cruelty.

To evict a tenant, rentiers should, be forced by law to provide a damn good , evidenced reason.

Either that or letting renters to be empowered to vacate without prejudice because the owner of their home has bad taste in clothes.

Which brings me back, neatly, back to the Wilsons and their hideous Burberry.

Monday, 20 January 2014


For some tenants, renting is a constant source of joy. Just one, vast panorama of happiness. A gorgeous extemporanea full of glee. For others, mostly the impoverished renter, whose work is precarious or those crammed in and insecure where demand is impossible high, it’s horrible.

The device that enables me to see search terms used to reach me here often serves to flag up common concerns. In other cases, people have contacted me to share their stories. The recurring, distressing, but I suppose, inevitable theme is flatmates in shared homes, not just hostile HMO’s, but supposed friendly shared houses with joint tenancies who are very worried about money.

It’s getting quite nasty. Some co-tenants knew each other before moving, others join a new family of convenience, living at close quarters with people they barely know. They share a world of unwanted intimacy, and they usually learn more about each other than is desirable or ideal.

But their lives are linked. I am being told of many examples of austerity biting and damaging the sense of distance most co-tenants seem to want.

One renter tells me of realising food was missing. Nothing major – just morsels really, as if someone had been trying to discreetly and surreptitiously feed themselves. She knew her co-tenant was having a tough time, but realised he was just plain hungry. She did her best to help, by not mentioning it, and offering to share meals, and donating ‘spare’ food. Her flatmate was later seen in tears, holding a parcel from the foodbank.

People everywhere are being forced to share rented homes – that includes claimants under 35, who might - let’s remember - be in work. Life is precarious, job contracts are short-term, pay is low, and people are pushed together. What do you do, when you know that someone is in trouble? When that trouble could affect you?

Then there are bills. How do you share the cost, when people cannot afford to pay monthly, or others cannot pay at all? There are communal meals – even trips to the pub, where one tenant is always, always, busy, and the others feel guilty.

There’s rent. People often elect one person to pay from their account, which is tricky if you’re paid late. Someone shares with an old friend who wasn’t paid for months on end, and he had to cover her share. The employer eventually went under, and he was struggling to find enough shifts himself, so it was a nightmare. He found her in tears. She’d taken a payday loan.

They took debt advice, and eventually had their card meter removed, so they could pay regularly throughout the year, instead of massive amounts in the winter. They paid off the arrears, but they had worked together. Not everyone is close enough or kind enough to do that.

It’s the sense of knowing that people are not your responsibility, but caring nonetheless. When, and where do you draw the line - do you feed them, or does concern stop simply run to polite, ‘caring faces’ and platitudes?

This is another problem that will get worse and worse. Renting isn't funny anymore.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Rein In Those Wilsons.

I’m battling with feeling peeved that it took some media outlets years to wake up to the fact that renting is frequently horrific. I’m pleased for the publicity, feeling vindicated, but equally certain that so much of this new outrage stems from publicity surrounding the vile ,self-satisfied, smug, greedy, pompous, self-entitled, self-justified Wilsons and their ‘…but we have to raise the rents.’

I often wonder, why must rents rise. Is it necessity? Is it the expense of running and managing property? No. It’s done because of high demand, which is blatant profiteering. But you can’t get away with it everywhere.

Rents rose fastest on an annual basis in London, where they increased by 4.4%, followed by the south-west (3.4%) and the south-east (3.2%). Rents fell by 5.5%, or an average of £42, in eastern England, 2.8% in the West Midlands, and 2% in the north-east, Yorkshire and the Humber. Most of Scotland is falling in real terms, too – except Edinburgh

They’re not rocketing up where unemployment is high, is the basic fact here. So here’s the issue, the mammoth in the room - rent control.

Rent control is what we need. Labour are against it, as are Shelter. But rent control is essential, to stop rentiers thumbing their noses at reason, and indulging their rapacious acquisitive natures. The odious Wilson’s insist it is their feudal right to charge as much as they see fit, not because of their own costs or any justifiable need, but because they want more money. Rents rise because of a degenerate, over-arching desire for profit, not because of the need to cover necessary prices involved in letting homes – not even interest rates, and rises outstrip inflation.

Before the usual suspects whine that renting was stagnating in the 80’s, that was because of the large amount of owners and the reasonable price of home-owning – more owner-occupiers means less tenants, so lower rents. Buying the first of several homes cost just 2.5 of the average income, and wages were higher with bills much lower in comparison.

But here’s the point. These buildings are homes. Vital, essential, necessary homes for people to live in, not holiday cottages, or your pied-a-terre in the city. It’s a home.

When people can’t afford a home, or worse- nobody will let to them, then where will they live? The streets, that’s where, and homelessness, actual rough sleeping is on the rise.

Certain property ‘professionals’ are delighted by the rise in rents. They forget that increasing rents because of demand is profiteering. When house-building gets under way the likes of the Wilsons will get their richly deserved come-uppance. They lord it over people’s lives, masters of their security, peace and fate. Worse still dubious, flaky wealth-on-paper has made them judgemental. They don’t understand that they benefited from state ‘hand-outs’ – the Wilsons are the scroungers, not their benighted tenants.

Meanwhile note to the odious, rent profiteering Wilsons – local housing allowance is paid one month in arrears, even before Universal Credit/Cockup is introduced.

But then, those Wilsons resemble Edward and Tubbs from The League of Gentleman, which keeps me smiling. I take my fun where I can at times like this.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

I Look Down On You Because…

In every city, on every street, across the country, in every building, a quiet battle is taking place, between ‘them’ (who’s ‘them’?) and us (who, exactly, is ‘us’?) The battle lines are fixed, and the adversaries are owner-occupiers, and tenants. Neither is innocent. Neither is blameless, both misbehave.

My experience was of glowering frostiness, then simple simmering fury - an icy chill whenever I saw my neighbour. I had no idea why. Then, by power of thought alone, I worked out what the problem was. This was after she had insulted Landgirl, and just been, well…odd. The problem was that I should have been cleaning the landing floor. I thought it was down to the caretaker, or ‘factor’ as we say in Scotland, but no – the occupants were supposed to mop the floors. The eternally and splendidly useless letting agents had failed to let me know. The grimacing continues.

In certain other buildings, absentee buy-to-let rentiers rent out homes to tenants who embrace the freedom and transience renting offers – short-term at least. In some extreme cases, they hold frequent noisy parties, scream loudly on the way home at night, do not empty the bins, leave litter lying around etc. They even – literally – shit on their own doorstep. But since they could be moved on, or choose to move every six months, so why bother building happy friendships?

I’ve many tales of recent graduated young-professionals, saving to buy, in place for as short a time as possible. Students are sometimes unpopular for similar reasons, but their transience is virtually guaranteed. Nasty for my friends partner, who works shifts as a nurse. But when you might be turfed out in six months time, it’s difficult to summon any enthusiasm for the communal cleaning rota or regimented weeding. But at least you could take out the bins on time.

It’s not always true that tenants don’t care. Some - I’d even venture, most - tenants behave in an exemplary fashion. They smile at neighbours, check on the elderly, bake for the street etc.

Much of this antipathy is caused, I suspect by snobbery, by a variant of the diktat ‘show me someone in rented housing beyond the age of twenty-five and I’ll show you a failure.’ Tenants are viewed as too poor to own, and therefore feckless, with little understanding that even in an HMO, they will be likely to be employed, disastrously paid, and goaded by disrepair, will leave ASAP.

This can result in hatred. One friend was subjected to a campaign of hostility and intimidation. She had moved in to what had previously been home to her unpopular rentier, so neighbours blamed my friend for the floods caused by his refusal to repair. But as a tenant, at least she could move. It was costly, and onerous. But move she did.

If you, the owner occupiers, realised just how much we, the temporary tenants envied you with your security, choice, and safety. This situation will worsen. That’s my prediction for 2014. One of them, at least.