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.