Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Homeless Scrum

Flat hunting is a competitive contact sport, played by landlords and tenants using elbows and sheer force of will. Prospective renters are on show. Every word and mannerism, even the tiniest gesture is assessed for clues as to character, potential criminal inclinations, and basic ‘will they pay the rent-ness’.

Landlords have a firm idea of who they want. Despite a legal agreement, you are nothing more than a house-guest, and they are a ghost that stalks the building. As they guide you on the dreaded tour, you must look eager, unruffled by sights which normally have you screeching with mirth or terror, like (as I once noticed) an enormous tube of KY, left casually, in plain sight, on the coffee table.

The golden rule is: get there first. Agencies only really care about references, credit checks etc. Provided you look presentable, and are not ostentatiously shifty or demented, there’s nothing you can do, as the flat goes to the first in line. Private landlords, however, must be wooed. They must be convinced you are suitable, if not downright fantastic, while you are summing them up to see if they seem slovenly, unreliable, or unexposed serial killers.

At one viewing, the landlord explained that someone had recently tried to kick down the door, even though it was directly opposite the police station. Next, he showed me the kitchen. There was no oven, cooker, or hob of any description, and when I wondered why, he pointed grumpily at the ancient microwave. It was also filthy. The bathroom stank (can you guess what lurked in the toilet?) The tiny lounge was crammed with an enormous cracked grey vinyl sofa, perilously close to the gas fire. It was hard not to express my dismay by screaming. I didn’t move in.

Some owners just don’t have a clue. I was once shown a room so dirty, you’d need a tetanus jab. The mattress’s previous incumbent was obviously a busy, active, fun-loving type of guy. ‘Yeah, I know…’ the landlord ruefully explained. ‘…art students.’

I’ve also seen the other side. I was showing the vacant room in a shared flat, and watched with amusement as a very proper gentleman/prospective co-tenant ran his finger over some imaginary dust on the mantelpiece. His first question was about the cleaning rota. His shoes sparkled and shone on a rainy day. He would never have fitted in. Some flats actually have proper interview panels, where people are sized-up like potential marriage partners rather than transient flatmates.

Tenants are allowed very little time to inspect their future home. Ask for a repeat showing, and you’re treated like a burglar casing the joint. After living in Dovecot Towers, I have some pertinent queries about crime levels, door locks, etc. Since I am practically asked for my DNA to check on the database, I think I’m entitled. So why then do agents glare at me, huff and puff and sigh? And why, when I’m polite and reasonable, do they evade my questions? With so many empty flats, you wouldn't think they'd still be so prickly.


Caoilte said...

Some questions there's no point asking (eg crime figures) because agents studiously make it their job not to know.

An agent is there to sell the place for the landlord not help you find your perfect home.

Some agencies have standards, but those are with the landlord not with you.

Any question along the lines of, "is this flat worth the money you're asking me to pay?" is only really asking "would you rip me off for the sake of your commission?"

RenterGirl said...

It's like saying: "...are you lying." There is no way of ascertaining certain relevant facts unless people are honest. That's why I get so angry when people make comments like: "Why did you move in if the flats so bad." It's often very hard to tell.

Darsalon said...

It is really. Seeing the stories here from various people I think I must be one of the luckiest renters out there. Decent landlady who hardly interrupts me and is prompt with repairs. Can't be bad.
Anyway, although the money is considerably less in up front fees than buying, you're given that much less time to scope things out before making your decision. That does make things much more of a hit and miss decision at times even though you're prepared to invest potentially 6-12 months of your life to the place depending on your contract.

RenterGirl said...

It is so dispiriting. Where's my guardian angel/fairy godmother/property magician granting me a simple reasonable flat with a few cupboards? (A view would be nice...)

Anonymous said...

just having a feud with the Letting agent.

have handed in notice and now there's the lies coming out

lie 1.. told me I had to wait until the 20th of feb to give a months notice as 'you' have to do it on the day you signed.

I laughed.Asked when they'd rewritten the LL and tenant act and whether she'd actually read the contract that I countersigned with her.Went in,handed my notice in giving a month.

lie 2 ..I get told they can enter with 24 hours notice when they want to either show people round or do what the fuck they like.

I laughed.

And there was me going to do the landlady a kindness and leave her the curtains I bought for the place.Letting agents attitude was arrogance peronsified.Have approached my soliticitor as I fancy having some fun.(the EA is finding the going hard and the LL has lost 40% of her 2007 purchase price).Looking for a route to take them to court and run their fees up.

you may think I'm really sad,but the way I look at it is this,these people have been crapping on people for years,telling lies,convincing people they've got to pay £100 to resign for 6 months etc.All of sudden they've screwed over ol reaps,who is a sight better funded than they ever will be.Unlucky is all I can say.

RenterGirl said...

I admire your tenacity reaper, but it shouldn't have to be that way. What about people who are vulnerable, unable, or too scared to stand up for their rights? When I wrote about lying letting letting agents and their lies, I think people thought I was being a tad harsh. I wasn't.

Anonymous said...

>Some questions there's no point
>asking (eg crime figures) because
>agents studiously make it their job
>not to know.

Go to http://www.statistics.gov.uk/neighbourhood-statistics.asp, select your country, and enter your post code into the "Neighbourhood Summary".

That'll give you the figures.


RenterGirl said...

That's incredibly useful, and thanks. However...in Dovecot Towers, much crime went unreported (ie barging though weak main doors etc). I'd like to speak with other residents, to get a picture of what it's really like, but it's hard when viewing during the day, evervbody's out, nobody the door. Etc. And things vary from building to building.

Anonymous said...

'I admire your tenacity reaper, but it shouldn't have to be that way. What about people who are vulnerable, unable, or too scared to stand up for their rights?'

thats why I'm doing it,man,if people like me can't stick a spanner in their works then who's going to.

Thus far,whenever I have fronted up to them and said sue me,they jsut back down.

The more in breech of my tenancy agreement I am,the more intimidated they are.seriously,when she said I'd be in breech,i just asked her how she was gonna get my money.

go to court and I'll cite what I deem to be unfair contract terms,then we'll flip a coin for who goes down.All they do is pretend the contract is rock solid and let me tell you,is it f***!!!If a clause isn't backed by the law,then they're relying on people being too intimidated.

The more I see of the profession,the less time I have for them.as each agent goes bust,I just laugh.They've lorded it over ordinary folk for too long.

Anonymous said...

'What about people who are vulnerable, unable, or too scared to stand up for their rights?'

and I think deposits should be independently dealt with,not by some LL who wants a new carpet.

RenterGirl said...

Reaper you are the scourge of Letting Agents everywhere; you are - if you will - the 'Zorro,' or 'Scarlet Pimpernel,' of the rental world. I also agree that deposits, disputes etc should be dealt with independently. See next weeks post...

Neil80 said...

Letting agents really are the scum of the earth, in return for their extortionate fees all you get are lies and deceit.

For example, when I moved into my current flat I noticed a double socket hanging, yes literally hanging by a wire, from the wall. As this was the first thing I noticed I wondered why I hadn't been so observant on the walk round (the flat was empty too).... the letting agent using their years of experience had walked into the room ahead of me, scanned the room and then had stood in front of the offending electrical fitting!!!!

Anyway, I'm glad you're telling it like it is, particularly the interrogation a tenant has to go through to rent a grotty flat in a bad part of town. This annoys me so much, particularly as this can involve you losing £200 if you fail their test.... how ridiculous is that.. sorry we don't think you have enough money so we're gonna help you by taking £200 off you!!

After holding my breath and passing the checks, my credit rating has probably been destroyed by previous tenants cutting and running leaving debt collecting agencies demanding I call them!

RenterGirl said...

I wish I could say I am surprised by that dreadful story, but...

If the letting agents/landlords charge a fee of any kind, it must be reciprocal. The holding fee thing cuts both ways, as I once found to my cost when a landlord changed his mind randomly. Hope you're settled now.

Anonymous said...


here's great bit of HPC.Went there for some immediate help when I was having trouble.Some very clued up posters and a great link to the CAB on tenants rights.

damocles in this thread--started by yours truly
http://www.housepricecrash.co.uk/forum/index.php?showtopic=102682 posts a great piece on 'quiet enjoyment'

It's funny how nice the LA has been since my solicitor got in touch to explain the position to her.tomorrow we go head to head re the deposit which will be fun fun fun.Initially,I was going to be nice,but now I'm going to fight it all the way to the tribunal to be spiteful.

Neil80,I could not agree more.that fee is a scam.now,the lying cheating whores(I nkow there are some good ones) are so desperate for tenants,it turns out they are negotiable after all.my new ones just been waived when I told them where to shove it and that I'd tell the LL why he hadn't got a tenant.

Anonymous said...


RG is there any chance you could post a permanent link to this really good CAB summary help know your rights webby thing.

People coming on here might appreciate the information.

RenterGirl said...

Reaper, I've been intending to write about the S.21 scam somewhere. May I direct you to Landlord Law (see links) who has flagged this up as well. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Good luck, reaper!

The balance of power is starting to move in favour of the tenant now.

RenterGirl said...

I can sense rebellion in the air. However, just because tenants are fed up with being treated so terribly, doesn't mean the fightback has begun. Many people are not as strong as Reaper, lack the money to begin proceedings, and therefore chose to move (again). The power is still mostly with the landlords. That must change. Vive la revolution? Maybe. Perhaps. One day.

Anonymous said...

my access to excellent legal advice isI admit,a stroke of good fortune.

BUT all people have to do is follow the same pattern.deny access as you deem the 'we can bring new tenants round anytime with 24 hrs notice' to be unfair.

to get in THEY need to get you in court which will cost a lot of moeny.You can represent yourself at no cost.

The only issue is whether costs would be awarded against you.but I doubt they would be as the clause is not backed by statute.

WOuld be interesting if a lawyer could give a view.

Meant to add..
Had my meeting with the LA this morning and boy was her tune different.she protested that the clause was fair but accepted she'd have to go to court and that it wasn't worth the bother.on the whole she was totally different to how she was on Monday.

get innnnnnn....

Anonymous said...

oh and told her because she was rude to me,that I'd withdrawn my offer of the curtains-which was an excellent offer.

Have told her I will see her at tribunal if I get billed for anything.Have offered the LL curtains for cash.They will be well miffed with the LA when I tell them they could have had them for free......:):):):):

Anonymous said...

having just been told i have to move out of the flat i share with a friend in manchester at 6 weeks' notice (because the landlady "wants to take the property back and move some family in") nothing really surprises me when it comes to tails of letting agency woe.

with flatmate moving back to her mum's place because looking for a flat during the second semester of a masters degree is understandably not something she wants, i'm now faced with trying to get a one bed place somewhere - what planet do LLs live on when they think 400pcm for a studio flat in salford is actually a fair rent? i earn relatively decent money but why is it so much more expensive to have your own place (ie not a bedsit with shared facilities aka a vaguely glorified prison cell/youth hostel room) if you want the independence of living alone? yet another way in which society disadvantages those of us choosing not to follow the co-habiting, property-owning 'dream'! no wonder i look upon those couples the same age as me (late 20s) on property shows whining because they only have a 650,000 budget for their 'dream house' with such thinly veiled disgust! grrr.... rant over, for now!

RenterGirl said...

Erm...they have to give two months, as much as they think and say otherwise. Perhaps you could ask for a rent free period to move out early? This shouldn't happen, and I am so sorry it has. I wrote recently about HMO's and how many people need to live alone. Some people violently disagreed. But; have you tried asking for a reduction - there are so many flats (euroboxes admittedly) and they aren't full. Good luck. Let me know how you get on as well! Oh, and rant away.

dave said...


After many years of totally awful estate agents, my partner and I have decided to set up a web site, where us poor tenants can have a moan and make sure we get treated as we should.

Check it out:-