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.


Anonymous said...

"However, more recent surveys by serious official organisations reveal the many problems faced by tenants."


RenterGirl said...

Yeah Barney - really.

Barney from Newington said...

Sorry to disappoint but that comment wasn't mine!

If I hear a media report that tenants are satisfied it's usually an official government survey.

If I hear a media report that tenants aren't satisfied then it's usually from a biased source such as the professional liars at Shelter or a website set up for angry tenants.

Also I find the use of mould and retaliatory evictions in your blogs quite annoying.

Mould is caused by a tenant's lifestyle, it is caused by having too much moisture in the air from activities such as not opening windows, blocking vents and drying clothes indoors.

I have never heard a landlord say they are going to get rid of tenants for requesting maintenance. Landlords like tenants to stay a long time and the only reason other than needing a property back due to a change of circumstance that a landlord will want a tenant to leave is if they are not paying the rent or if they are causing anti-social behaviour.

Actually one of the reasons landlords like tenants to stay longer is because existing tenants generally don't ask for that much maintenance whilst a new tenant will want a lot of maintenance done at the start of a tenancy.

space cadet said...

And the folks in Westmininster are such an honest bunch.

"I have never heard a landlord say they are going to get rid of tenants for requesting maintenance."

You'd have to take your fingers out of your ears first.

Anonymous said...

Any chance of a link to these recent surveys by serious official organisations?

Regards, HB Welcome

RenterGirl said...

Hey there HB 'Troll' Welcome: there are SO many links and reports. I am sure you can find them. But here's an interesting view from landlords:

Barney - that's you done on this blog now. No more. I've left your vile final comment up; do you realise it's libellous?

FYI Mould is not down to tenant lifestyle: it's due to poor heating/poor insulation/leaky roofs. This is from the mouth of a chief Environmental Health Officer.

Rentiers must be mindful that tenants must and will dry clothes indoors - this is nto unreasonable, since few have access to safe drying places, and even tumble driers are far too expensive to be reasonable.

That's it now from you. No more. Your views are not constructive, reasonable or even interesting.

Anonymous said...

Really? You've heard? I've certainly lived in rented housing where mould has not been "due to my lifestyle". Are you suggesting my home hygiene is so poor that all reasonable attempts have not been made to correct the situation? Or that even in "luxury accommodation" a landlord or letting agent can be so poor as to refuse professional cleaning to rectify sewage pipe flooded flooring and carpets? Because I must have imagined that.

Renter Girl blogs of the lack of security when renting from No Fault Evictions and you cannot understand that a "change of circumstances" can happen several times in a short period. I've personally endured four such evictions, my last neighbour seven in twelve years. Can you not imagine that feeling of insecurity when your home, your children's school, your doctor and your community can be pulled from under your feet so regularly?

I've had a landlord that attempted to have me "out by the weekend" for having the temerity to request a replacement fire that was condemned and cut off by the gas board. Do you believe that was my "anti-social behaviour?" Anti-social behaviour can lead to ASBO's and criminal records. You suggest that a person suffering eviction for reasonable requests is indulging in potentially criminal behaviour because you've "never heard" of a landlord being an arse.

I suggest you are irritated because your cosy view is being challenged and you dislike the idea you are wrong.

Or you are just being an arse.

Anonymous said...

Renter Girl,

So he is just an arse?

RenterGirl said...

When I began writing this blog, tenants were invisible, and ignored. Our frequently terrible experiences of revenge evictions didn't have a name. Now we have campaign groups and will be courted by political parties.

So, yes, in short Barney and his bitter landlording ilk are arses. But they are also very scared. With just cause.

The people who say 'links or it did not happen' are also wrong. There are bad tenants - nobody would deny it. But this blog is about sharing mass evidence, or telling the story of how we must live.

For the record, I don't agree with everything Shelter do and say, but they are mostly brilliant.

Anonymous said...

Thanks RG, an interesting and knowledgeable link.

But it is neither a survey nor from an official organisation.

Regarding your 'Troll' comment, if there is anything you find offensive (I fail to see what) then please feel free to delete.

Regards, HB Welcome

RenterGirl said...

Here's some ace evidence from the amazing Shelter:

Oh and HB Welcome - trolls sod more than offend. They simply post spuriously for the thrill of winding people up. That's you, that is.

Anonymous said...

You continue to do good work. When I recently happened on your blog I bookmarked straight away, it seemed to me you were doing something I hadn't come across before and I identified with many of your experiences. Within a couple of weeks I'd read your back catalogue and the few blogs from your LandGirl were also refreshing. I thought it showed not a little honesty & courage in both your relationship with her and your work. It lends it credence.

I hope your right that the tide is turning, I'm certainly optimistic. Perhaps it has to do with the sheer number of renters out there now. So many amateurs believing that because they live in a house they therefore know how to be a landlord/lady. And so very many people renting and paying so much more now that it is no longer just the voices of students and the lower-working classes that such people can no-longer be marginalised and ignored. Increasing numbers of house owners will get an understanding as their children experience renting in ever larger numbers. So yes, there is good reason to be optimistic.

On second reading of HB's posts I don't think I should have been so (internally) charitable. His language suggests he is or was being deliberately offensive, whereas now he is simply being a pendant to save face.

"Not an official survey or organisation". No link no evidence rubbish can be very irritating. Because our society never considers evidence that isn't an official survey does it? It's remarkable how much evidence some dick on the internet needs to consider a different viewpoint but the witness statement of a couple of bobbies can see you in the dock in the physical word.

Em-Jay aka Anon (above)

Anonymous said...

Are you claiming Shelter are a serious official organisation?

They do receive a lot of government funding mind you..

RenterGirl said...

Anon above - and your point is what exactly...?

HB - you silly idiot you miss the entire point of this blog whilst gliding between tenant friendly sites to troll: this blog is not about 'surveys' but evidence and research otherwise ignored. If people like myself and your the sites with which you are obsessed, the issue of 'generation rent' would not be in the news.

Oh - and I don't need your permission to delete posts. I will if I care too. And I do just that. To be honest, I'd prefer you not to post comments here anymore. You're repetitive: 'survey from landlords or it didn't happen' really is a tedious and idiotic response, but that's what you say to everything.

Anonymous said...

"To be honest, I'd prefer you not to post comments here anymore."

OK, goodbye.

Regards, HB Welcome.

RenterGirl said...

Farewell! If you are ever able/capable of posting something other than 'find me a link to facts - facts I like - facts I choose believe in - facts from proper people like landlords' than please do return!

Barney from Newington said...

I can't believe you are claiming Shelter as being a credible source.

Shelter start out with the issue they want to raise then extrapolate the flimsiest of data to come out with a misleading statistic to support their issue.

The next thing you know 1 million people have been victims to landlord fraud.

Personally I would expect better from a charity and I think the charity commission should investigate the type of misrepresentation that Shelter are involved in to determine whether they are mainly a lobbying organisation with a small charity bolted on. Certainly from the amount of their income that is spent on wages and their choice of a Labour civil servant as chief executive then this would seem to be the case.

RenterGirl said...

Ooh, you're REALLY good at this trolling lark, aren't you Barney?

I'm going to just delete anything you post like this. All of it. This is your final chance. I also wonder why it is so important to you to criticise Shelter - the body who defend and represent tenants and campaign for better housing. Another angry bad landlord is also what I suspect you are. Now sod off for good. Go and play somewhere else, with people like you. Landlord sites, for example.

Ben Reeve-Lewis said...

On the threads here relating to condensation and poor property conditions.

I had always taken the view that condensation was down to tenant use….not being a technical expert but I had the good fortune last Friday to attend a talk by one of the country’s leading experts on damp and a chat over a pint or three with Tim Waitte, a solicitor who specialises in damp and disrepair claims.

He has written an informative article here In which he states “Bad cases of condensation damp and mould are probably caused by bad design of the property.”

In our chat he informed me of the legal action he takes against landlords over issues of condensation that is blamed on the tenant. I’m still no expert but it has thrown my thinking on it’s head.

Then this Friday just gone I attended a talk by another legal bod Tim Everett of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health Officers on the subject of what are called ‘Works in default’, another thing I hadn’t experienced.

The legal machinery is there under Section 81 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and Section 3 of the Housing Act 2004 for councils involved in landlords letting poor properties to remedy the works in a given time-frame, in the absence of which the council can step in and do the works and charge the landlord, not only for the costs of the repairs but also any ancillary costs such as officer time, admin, legal charges etc.

This means that a £3,000 repair to the roof that is causing the problem could easily run to £8,000 when all the real costs are added on. Unlike prosecutions for poor conditions where the council rarely get their costs back, this route is quicker and more financially punitive and get this…..the council can levy a charge on the property which takes precedence over the 1st charge (Mortgage) so can even force sale against the mortgage lender’s wishes..

Tim’s powerpoint presentation is here
Having attended this briefing the council I work for are seriously looking into bringing this in as a quick and effective big stick for those running the worst properties.

Does your council do them? If not why not? And what can you do to push them to adopt the powers? Just an open question there.

RenterGirl said...

Hello Ben - yep; I've written previously - condensation is always due to design of homes, not tenant behaviour. The current, understandable mania for insulation makes this worse, since structures cannot 'breathe'. But where can tenants dry clothes other than indoors...

Ben Reeve-Lewis said...

I confess I dont get involved in disrepair complaints, I just pass them on to the EHOs so I always presumed condensation was mainly tenant use but as I say a long chat with Tim, the country's leading lawyer on the subject (Someone has to be I suppose) was an eye opener.

In the article I quote above he goes on to say "Often landlords blame condensation on the tenant. Of course if the tenant never opens the windows, never uses the heating, dry lots of washing inside and boils a lot of water there will be condensation problems. But most tenants don’t live like this. Really bad damp and mould problems are often due to a repair issue (see above) or the design of the flat, not the tenant."

Who am I to argue?

space cadet said...

Ben, you mention " bringing this in as a quick and effective big stick for those running the worst properties." and i just found myself wondering why 'only now'? Has the "legal machinery" been there for a while? Grateful for your clarification on that one, thanks.

RenterGirl said...

Ben I attended a Shelter conference some while back where the head of environmental health officers stated that condensation is just another form of damp. Those links are both extremely useful.

Ben Reeve-Lewis said...

@ Space Cadet. Funding and jobs cuts is the simple answer to that one, plus a belief in local authorities that is slowly changing that councils have to do it all.

My council used to have a works in default team years back but they were axed and never managed the work anyway as there were no funds and no repairs staff, the latter having been hived off when the council stock became an ALMO.

Tim Everett's suggestion is that we dont have to find internal staff to do the work, just get contractors in. They can bill us, we pay them and recover from the landlord, through a registered charge if necessary, which renders the whole thing an administrative process that can be spread among different existing teams and doesnt cost a penny to run. in fact it provides income.

This may seem plainly obvious to non council workers but trust have to understand the internal workings of a council to see the genius in the idea. No extra staff.....income generation....good publicity and no political problems as it is only the bad guys who are being hit. It ticks all the boxes for senior managers and cabinet members and believe me...that's a rarity

Anonymous said...

"The next thing you know 1 million people have been victims to landlord fraud."

Only 1 million?

Ben Reeve-Lewis said...

Anonymous ignoring your sarcasm I think a million people would be about right.

Bad landlords are in the minority percentage wise but there are so many out there nowadays that even 5% constitutes a huge number and will probably get you to your 1 million.

Remember it isnt just the landlords who threaten their tenants, beat them up or illegally evict them as a matter of routine, I'm a TRO in an inner London council, I see these people everyday, but also the bigger number who let out poorly run shitholes that would make Charles Dickens weep in his grave to see how little progress we made since he first highlighted these problems 150 years ago.

I say again so that you are left with no ambiguity about what I am saying here....the vast majority of landlords are decent people (you may well be one of them) and their properties are fine but there is a significant number of wankers out there to make things like Works in Default an absolute necessity. Criminals who prey on the vulnerable and have no regard for the law.

Existing legislation does nothing to remove these people from the game so council enforcement types like me need and use every trick in the book to take them down.

I may not be able to get them for harassment or illegal eviction because of the vagaries of law but I have the personal mobile number of our local HMRC tax avoidance inspector on speed dial. Sometimes that's all it takes.

RenterGirl said...

It's true Ben. And it's very often the low level misery of knowing you daren't request vital repairs; there's more to bad housing than the few actual 'rogues.' Being creative and inventive when dealing with the really bad ones is the best way. And let's remember - the true rogues actually endanger lives with dangerous property.

Anonymous said...

Actually I wasn't being sarcastic at all, Ben (or if I was it was at the deluded person who thinks that Shelter coming out with stats that say that show renting is miserable is a sign of Shelter being biased, rather than a sign that renting truly is miserable).

I'm quite certain it's more than a million victims of landlord fraud. Also if my experience is any guide, I don't agree that the 'vast majority' of landlords are decent people, unless 'not beating up your tenants' is sufficient to get you into that group.

I've only ever had one landlord I couldn't fault. All the others I've had have been at least a bit reckless, a bit useless, a bit unpleasant or a bit dishonest, in a way that would shock people if it was in any other line of business. But with private rented accommodation you end up saying 'well he wasn't so bad, he only tried to steal half my deposit' or 'I was only without a washing machine for 10 days' or 'there wasn't a gas safety certificate, but I didn't notice any soot around the boiler so he probably wasn't endangering our lives'.

RenterGirl said...

It's so easy for comments to appear more flippant than intended - I do this all the time! Thanks for elaborating, and yes - it's like Stockholm syndrome where tenants are inordinately grateful for basic humanity. The daily grind of insecurity is the worse aspect of the UK's PRS.

Ben Reeve-Lewis said...

Haha Yeah that's forums for you. I stand corrected anonymous, my apologies.

In fact Shelter's rogue landlord label has long been a vexed question for me. It doesnt help enforcement officers at all.

As I have said until I'm blue in the face, including in emails to Shelter's Robbie de Santos, the author of their campaign, If there is only rogue landlords and all the others how do you create a benchmark for prosecution among all the real world shades of grey?

Is the only exemption a landlord who doesnt beat his tenant up? Or if you take into account the useless, lazy, tight-fisted, ignorant or incompetent then where do you draw the line?

'Rogue Landlord' is a useless phrase unless you are simply using it as a standard to gather people around.

For me I keep four handy benchmarks in mind.....
Landlords using threats or violence are definately on the naughty step. I can forgive ignorance of the very complex web of housing law but even an idiot knows that is not allowed.

Next up for me are the landlords who break laws that they might not realise are there but who dont change their behaviour when advised. They are fair game for people in my job.

Third come the ones who break laws they dont know are there or might have a bit of knowledge of but who chance their arm until people complain, then they back down. Weasly little shits treading a very thin line but few councils have the staff these days to spend a lot of effort running them to ground.

Finally the amateurs who really dont understand the legal obligations and who usually back down as soon as notified. I do think this is the largest group to be honest and I'm not interested in them. If they play ball when advised then I wont take things further.

I understand that some tenants reading this would be outraged but councils really dont have the resources to treat all behaviour as rogue.

One illegal eviction can take a TRO out of action for 4 or 5 days, running around, taking statements, attending court, serving summonses. In my office 2, even 3 illegal evictions in a day are not unusual. If you treat all cases as prosecution cases the backlog becomes huge in a very short space of time and then nobody gets help.