Wednesday, 28 July 2010

I'm Afraid For You.

I’ve written previously about the device I use which shows the keywords used to find this blog. Apart from the usual queries involving rubber gloves (still strikingly popular) recently, I’ve noticed a disturbing development.

There’s been a notably increased amount of phrases such as: “I’m afraid of my landlord.” Or “…my landlord comes round unannounced.” Worst of all was “My landlord threatens me.” Along with “Is my landlord entitled to go through my underwear drawer.”

He isn’t.

This might sound crassly obvious – but it’s horrible to live in fear. For most tenants, the next few years will be lived under a palpable sense of nervousness, as we ponder the perennial question: whatever will become of us? With increasing reliance on private rented housing, the regulation of agents and landlords has been ruled out, and – judging from some of the comments/keywords/comments I’ve seen, the other measures supposed to protect us simply do not work.

People are scared. Large scale private investors are looking to do what those individual buy-to-let investors did: build loads of news homes, and then decide who lives in them. Occupants (i.e. tenants) are not now, and never will be consulted about their needs, or even what they’d like from a home. And landlords…ah landlords…

They argue on a loop claiming to endure restrictions so tight they can barely breathe, let alone their sacred right to evict renters randomly at will and throw their belongings out on the street…(Oh, I’m being bad I know, but it’s a right they cling to.)

It is a paradox – most tenants like the freedom of renting a house: not feeling so tied down, living a life of short term contracts matched by short term living arrangements. But the downside is a life of insecurity: wilfully encouraged by landlords and letting agents, who delight in undermining any hard-won semblance of security.

But this philosophy is pernicious. It seeps and infects your life: tenants never know when they will have to move and are treated like mould in the bathroom – tolerated briefly and then eradicated.

And now we are scared. Some of us are terrified. Landlords are flexing their muscles, and in certain distressing cases - are behaving badly. Judging by the recent onslaught of questions about personal safety reaching me, it’s only a matter of time before something really bad happens.

So please: if you land here because you are being threatened and/or intimidated – please use more the helpful sites on the blogroll to the right of the page, especially the wonderful Shelter.

And remember this: you have rights. You are not vermin. You are a human being, paying rent to live in a building which is a home (not the physical embodiment of another person’s luxurious retirement bungalow dream) and you should not live in fear. Remember this when you are being terrorised: slipping away and not making a fuss is tempting, but if we don’t fight back, it’s going to get worse, and worse.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Lodging A Complaint

The idea of being a lodger still sounds dull, and seedy - redolent of rationed hot water, sneaking upstairs to hide ‘guests’ and terrifying battle-axe landladies. Don’t worry - by lodging I don’t mean boarding houses, but renting a room in someone else’s house.

Lodging is now officially encouraged: the last government even gave tax breaks to people letting out a room. And on the surface, it seems like a great idea – owner-occupiers are in trouble, and so many people bought two bed flats (dovecots) that they might as well let one room out.

If only it was that simple. First of all – who gets the en-suite room? Might seem petty, but these are things that lead to simmering white-faced resentment. A friend lodged as a student, renting a room from a testy, bitter couple both forced into low paid jobs and saddled with an unwieldy mortgage. Taking in a student must initially have seemed like a grand idea, but the situation grew nastier day-by-day.

First of all, they grew increasingly proscriptive about when she could use the kitchen. Then her allocated shelf-space was shrunk, and that precious allotted time in the bathroom was shortened. Remember she was paying rent, money they were relying on to stay solvent (maybe that’s why they were so tetchy – they resented the power unwittingly wielded).

They were stunned and hurt by her explanation for leaving: “…but you were a guest in our house.” That surely is the nub of the problem – lodgers are treated like couch surfer friends who have outstayed their welcome, rather than people who live in a room as of right, paying handsomely to so. I know of people who take in lodgers and appreciate the delicate power balance, and have the decency to treat their tenant more like a flat-mate than an irritation.

Another friend rented a room from an eccentric woman who collected cats (no Рshe was not called Mrs. Clich̩) until the house was overrun with moggies, their hair, fur balls, and their spraying. She was unable to voice her anger as lodgers live on a licence, and can be given an hours notice on a whim for imagined slights. The upside is they can usually move immediately - as my friend did here.

Lodgers walk delicately across thin ice, which is carpeted with egg-shells. If owners don’t wash up, or leave their laundry mouldering for months in the machine, that’s their prerogative, and lodgers must smile sweetly and ignore it. They have no sense of ownership - no ‘purchase.’ Lodging twists the natural tenant relationship: everybody must be on their best behaviour, as lodgers can leave whenever they want, and landlords can give lodgers the push whenever they feel like it – just because they want to. It’s like having a landlord as your flatmate – tenants/lodgers must be understanding about repairs, and in turn they will see the effect of the good (and/or poor) management when owners sit opposite them in the lounge (that’s if they let you use it.) It’s a miracle that lodging based violent crime doesn't make the news on a daily basis.