Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Life On The Ocean Wave With Grant Shapps

Grant Shapps thinks people could live in boats.

Grant Shapps thinks people should live in boats.

Yes I know I said it twice, but seriously, I might even type those words again in the vain hope that I will believe that he actually said that (he did) or that it makes sense (nope – it still doesn’t.)

A few years back, I interviewed the great man himself. This was of course some time before he could sit in his lair with a glint in his eye, dreaming up new and increasingly bizarre solutions to the housing crisis.

Crisis? What crisis? Yes, we have a housing crisis: housing benefit cuts are propelling large numbers of tenants towards fewer properties (well ones they can afford if they are now, or likely to be claiming benefits.) I’ve said before that surely that would be best achieved by revitalising rent officers, allowing them to set tight rent controls, rather than cutting benefits and hoping landlords will drop their prices (why would they where this is a shortage of properties?)

We need to build large affordable homes on city centre sites, under the Parker Morris standards. We can build them in skyscrapers or in well-designed low rise developments, not the Dovecots I have written about in the past. I doubt that developers are queuing up to build boats. (It just sounds sillier every time I type it.)

This will be a nightmare. Now, Grant when we met, was very keen to emphasise his admirable campaign for realistic rough sleeping figures, to the extent that he spent a well-publicised night sleeping outdoors one chilly Christmas eve. But apart from this, nobody in government seems to have grasped the reality of housing, such as the supply and demand part, and we are still in a febrile buy-to-let scenario, where owners still believe they are entitled to ramp up rents and luxuriate in money. Didn’t that used to be called profiteering?

But back to the boats. It’s already hard enough to get a mooring for a residential barge, I am led to believe. Does he mean we should all go on a cruise? As jolly as that would be, it’s hardly practical: the obesity crisis would be worsened by those notorious 24-hour buffets, and what if you are sea-sick?

Does he mean we should join the navy? Defence cuts will see to that. Rowing boats? Yachts? Well, I’ve fancied sailing in yling-yling just because I like the sound of the word. Or does he mean that blameless citizens, tax payers and claimants alike should be herded off into prison ships and forced to wade ashore every morning, that’s if they aren’t intercepted by pirates. Every child’s dream, but not very nice, even if we are piped ashore by lovely sailors.

Boats are not the answer. Not for nothing are boats big enough to live in long-term usually the preserve of the stupidly rich.

Grant, Grant Shapps – Grant Shapps are you out there? Earth to Grant Shapps!!! You are deluded, you are causing harm and your latest utterance is an absolute load of coracles.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

A Tale Of Two Flats

Two friends live in very different flats, where the owners employ opposing philosophies with regard to managing their nest egg.

The first place is an ancient, purpose built block in an area that’s down on its luck. The flat itself is beautiful, featuring everything that renders estate agents boggle-eyed with joy: plaster mouldings intact (get me with my fluent estate-agentese) large rooms with high ceilings, views of a nearby park (I’m turning into one of them) original solid wood floor (give me a job?) and spacious hallway (somebody stop me...)

The rent is very reasonable. Why? Over the years, the owners have neglected this amazing property. Windows are mercifully original not UPVC horrors, but the grand and frigid lounge is deserted in Winter, with occupants huddling in bed to keep warm.

Worst though is the bathroom. There’s a hole in the floor, and I don’t mean a dent, but a gaping pothole in the floorboards, next to the bath, where years of ignored leakage caused the chipboard to rot. One tenant is a gifted carpenter, and offered to mend it in return for a month rent free, but the landlord hesitates, saying he needs the income.

They might benefit from stressing that the aforementioned hole is dangerous, because when the residents fall into the flat below and end up in casualty, he’ll be sued so bad he won’t know where to run. Elsewhere the building isn’t dangerous, but doors are falling off cupboards, furniture is broken/inadequate/missing, and there are no curtains. The landlord didn’t even provide a hoover, but at least he’s a friendly, easy-going guy who arrives with beer, despite avoiding repairs wherever possible.

The other flat is also cheaper than you’d think, but for different reasons. The owner believes that if rent is set slightly below market levels, tenants are more likely to stay, thereby avoiding the dreaded voids in occupancy, and so she’ll gain in the long term. It’s draught proofed, subtly renovated but not destroyed, and still has all its original features.

The owner replaces the mattress every now and again, has provided a dish-washer, pays for the upkeep of the communal garden, and does repairs fast, because as she might need to live there herself one day. Tellingly, her kids rent in a another town, and so she treats her own tenants as she would wish her offspring to be treated: fairly, courteously and lawfully.

What I don’t understand is this: property is an investment. If you earned money from a building, wouldn’t you care for it? Both ways of working are entirely legal (except leaving that massive hole in the floor.) Little can be done about the draining neglect of landlords who fail to maintain their investment, causing misery, or harm to tenants.

Nobody cares to enforce what laws do exist, even when landlords are brutish thugs who terrorise tenants, cramming them into rooms which are blighted by damp, cockroaches, freezing draughts and mould. Meanwhile, low-level, debilitating conditions which drain mental and physical health must battle to sound important. Important is exactly what they are.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Rentergirl Is Back!

Some of you have been kind enough to notice and comment on the fact that I stopped writing rentergirl for a while. There are many reasons. Bubbling under everything is the simple fact that because of the lack of focus on housing and other condem ruses it all became hard for me to write.

More simply and less catastrophically woeful is the fact that I lost a memory stick with months worth of research material on it. I couldn’t find anyone I trusted to mend it, for a reasonable amount of money, and so lost momentum. Any suggestions?

But now rentergirl is back, with a few changes. I put an awful lot of work into this, and must earn a living. After a great deal of soul-searching, I decided to accept one of the many offers of sponsored links. Indeed I am actively seeking ads (see links to the side and above.)

I will not allow sponsored posts – they detract from the integrity of what I do. All sponsors having read the blog are aware that I regularly write strong criticism of property related businesses. And those of you who craftily try and include adverts in comments – haven’t you learned that I always delete them?

Furthermore, I am opening the blog up. Please suggest topics you would like covered, and I’ll see what I can do. My experiences good and bad are not unique, but let me know if you think I have missed out on any aspect of the renters life and I’ll see what I can do.

Trolls and nasties beware, however. For the time being, due to some sinister comments and attempts at intimidation, I will moderate all comments before they run. This blog is a troll free zone. It is not a discussion board, with all the nastiness that seems to entail, but I would like readers to put their temperate, relevant (hopefully funny…) comments on this blog, then after moderation, they can appear.

So let’s get started again, at what is a difficult time for tenants, with rents in the south rising, lack of protection, lack of suitable property and indeed a lack of will to regulate.

Oh and finally: all the publishers who have been reading rentergirl still, don’t be shy at contacting me…

Welcome back.