Monday, 25 February 2013

How To Be Homeless.

Homelessness is rising. I mean actual rough sleeping – genuine, totally miserable, cold, damp, hopeless, abandoned, hiding in the night, freezing to death, homelessness.

Most people find it hard to believe that anyone could end up actually homeless, let alone literally roofless, but believe me it’s really easy. Here’s how:

(1) Find yourself in between jobs. Having budgeted well, and until that point, you managed to pay reasonable rent on a modest flat, discovering only when claiming housing benefit that this little place of yours is over the Local Housing Allowance ceiling set by those condems: right at the bottom of local rents. When you try and move, discover that as far as landlords and letting agents go, you are a pariah. Apply to the council as homeless but lack priority need (no children or severe disability) and have no local connection. Good luck.

(2) Relationship ends: one partner leaves, and pride, or confusion leads to sofa surfing. Hosts get bored of a lump on the settee, and politely ask you to leave, assuming you have somewhere else to go, but also judgementally deciding that the accompanying joblessness is somehow your fault, as is the homelessness.

(3) Be a claimant (and yes, most housing benefit claimants are in work.) Then have your rentier decide, abruptly to sell, but in between moving out and finding a new place, discover that nobody will house you without a guarantor. Only you don’t have a guarantor. And you’ve been a good tenant, so abide by the notice to quit. Except you have nowhere else to go. And no local connection, and are not considered to be in priority need (that is: vulnerable for reasons of health or age, or childless.)

(4) Lose your home due to a landlord going bankrupt. In any of these stated situations.

(5) Move away for employment/education, but find no work, or lose the job, and be staying in temporary accommodation: a hostel or cheap bed and breakfast, but run out of money.

(6) Be bullied out of a shared home. Then find you can’t get a reference from your previous resident landlord.

(7) Be the bottom of the list when desperate in a high demand area. Place your sealed bid, but discover that people have outbid you for the hovel you could just cover on minimum wage.

(8) Be thrown out by your parents, but not knowing how to access housing, support or the funds to find a safe new place.

(9) Be freelance. Even high earning freelancers are deemed undesirable by letting-agents.

(10) Be disabled, or mentally ill. Few private sector rentiers will touch you with a very long disinfected barge pole, no matter how much support you have, or how ‘well’ you now are.

See – it’s not hard. In fact, it’s all too easy. Homelessness doesn’t happen to other people, to strangers with ‘chaotic lives’ or the feckless and useless. The UK private renting sector is broken. And nobody has the will to fix it.

Still don’t believe me? All of those scenarios were sent by readers, and one (or more) also genuinely happened to me.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Shooting Tenants

Throughout the duration of my long, long (very long) renting experience I endured, variously landlords who have: threatened to hit me, refused to repair deathly gas water heaters, given notice by telepathy and then wondered why I hadn’t moved out, gone bankrupt, and it seems gone mad.

But so far, nobody has threatened to shoot me.

Like every right thinking citizen, I think that rogue landlords are bad and should be banned. (I know… I know… see recent post…)

But here is why tenants are scared, and why they feel powerless and vulnerable: there are a minority of landlords out there who are not just a but naughty. There are rentiers who do more than occasionally saunter in to homes unannounced, or who avoid repairs which not even the staunchest advocate of tenant rights would describe as vital. Some rentiers are violent thugs.

But threatening to shoot your tenants? Well that’s extra special horrible isn’t it? I mean, having someone let themselves into your house, using their own key, threaten to have you killed by thugs in their pay, and then bombarding the tenants with abusive phone calls:

A millionaire landlord who threatened to have tenants shot has been banned from renting out property. Mark Fortune will be breaking the law if he takes on new tenants after licensing chiefs ousted him from a list of fit and proper landlords.”

Fortune’s behaviour makes me wonder if many rentiers secretly wish to copy him. But threatening to shoot people (and all threats of violence) are the handiwork of dodgy crooks who believe tenants should hand over the money while remaining barefoot, unlagged, unheated, draughty and grateful. Ask for repairs? Nah. Fat chance: just hand over the rent, the exits over there, do not pass go, do not collect your deposit on the way out (they’re keeping it for ‘damage.’)

‘The decision comes after Fortune was fined £650 for issuing a tenants of a property in Lonsdale Terrace after they confronted him over a £160 repair bill.'

At the dodgier end, many are gangsters (and I mean actual gangsters) as buy-to-let is rumoured to be a haven for money laundering. The criminal law can, should and usually is, being used against them, but it’s nice to ban them forever from the landlord register as well, isn’t it?.

A while back I received an email from a tenant advisor in (I think )Alabama, where landlords threatening to shoot their tenants was seemingly so commonplace that had published a specialist leaflet (do not fire back?).

I am also intrigued by particular sentence in the Edinburgh story:
It is the first time the city council has refused an application to be included on the register.
There’s the rub. ‘The first time.’ He's banned from the landlord register - big whoop, for sure, but will the council take similar action again? How many landlords understand that they can’t abuse, beat, and hurt their tenants? How many want to issue such threats with impunity?

The rebirth of buy to let will make this a whole lot worse. Meanwhile, Fortune, the gun-toting rentier, still owns those residencies. Perhaps he might just sell or assign them to one of his cronies, managing things from behind the scenes? Confiscation of property – it’s the only way.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Goldilocks Tenant

I’ve noticed growing numbers of an unsettling new phenomenon: increasing desperate, repeated pleas for homes, shared on social networking sites. A friend reposted this request:

3/4 bedroom house needed for a very well house trained lot.. We are a family of 5 and a dog who are currently living in a 2 bed house. You do the maths!!!! We have great references, we lived in our last house for 9 years and have been stuck in this temporary stop for 18 months and seem unable to get out of it through no fault of our own. We had a great house to move into next week but someone came along and bought it at the last minute. We are sleeping on a sofa bed which is so detrimental to our well being and we have had enough!! It seems like every other road in ????? has empty student housing at the moment. ???? Rd is a perfect example, 12 student houses to let but NOT to families!!!!! Please help, pass this on to people you know..... If you have a house, know of a house, someone with a house we would be great tenants. We ARE great tenants.... The deal: you, your friend, an acquaintance get a lovely family a new home and a warm fuzzy feeling of helping us back from the brink of total despair and stop us dealing with the white sharks in sharp suits also known as ESTATE AGENTS!!!! Oh and rent, yep rent. We pay rent, look after the house on a long term basis and you get peace of mind knowing that your house is in great, capable hands. We are self employed which somehow means we are untouchable in the land of estate agents without a £5/6000 deposit and a guarantor who earns over £32,000 a year...... The deal: let's talk... SOON!!

They sound great, don’t they? Lovely people, by the sound of it.

Except… Work these days is frequently low paid, casualised, part time and temporary. The unemployed are being directed into self-employment, no matter how unsuited their skills or capabilities. Before they let to the self-employed, rentiers request five years audited accounts, which ignores an economic crisis, where tenants might be recent graduates, or that modern work is precarious and transient, with portfolio careers, ‘flexibility’ and – newsflash – thinking on your feet to make money after redundancy.

What about people who know they are already way down on any owner’s wish-list: working claimants, given notice to leave through no fault of their own and now looking for a new place to live, scared as potential home-providers are claimant averse? What if they live in cities where students whose stay is finite are preferred over families who want to stay long term, perhaps indefinitely?

Prospective tenants must be like Goldilocks’ porridge: just right – precisely and exactly right, not too old, or too young, too rich (they’ll leave asap) or too poor. Childless but in secure families (go figure.) Working but not too many hours as this will disturb the neighbours. It's impossible.

Who will ever find a home these days? Who?

Monday, 4 February 2013

Nothing Like A Rogue

If everyone is strongly against an issue, problem, or situation, and people march on the streets and sign petitions etc, does that mean that everyone else is silently but actively in favour? I mean, unless you protest loudly, and keep repeating and emphasising your opposition to an issue, does this mean you support it?

No. But given the fuss being made about so-called ‘rogue landlords’ you’d think this was the case. Freedom from rogues… an end to rogues… down with rogues! All campaigning groups and political parties stress their strong opposition to rogues.

But how do you define rogue? The scum who rent out those notorious beds in sheds? The landlady who killed a tenant through allowing faulty wiring to go unchecked and unrepaired? The man who illegally evicted his tenant by hiring thugs to assault him and then threw him out on the street?

I think rogues are a distraction. Where they exist, there is enough relevant legislation to ensure they imprisoned or fined, but apparently little will to deploy it. Shelter are campaigning hard on rogues, and yes, rogues are really, really bad.

Never forget the worst part of renting: the low level misery. Should a landlord without a licence, or one who rents out property without permission from their mortgage provider, or who issues retaliatory eviction to a tenant who asks for a repair be considered rogue?

I recently contacted my local (Labour) MP, regarding the Commons debate on renting, and requested that he raise: short tenancies, retaliatory evictions, that rentiers need only give two months notice and tenants are out etc.etc etc… His reply was amazing.

He is in favour of: ‘regulating residential lettings and management agents; protecting tenants, landlords and the reputations of the many responsible agents; ending the confusing, inconsistent fees and charges regime, making fees easily understandable, upfront and comparable across agents; promoting longer term tenancies and predictable rents; and introducing a national register of landlords to help empower local authorities to improve standards and deal with rogue landlords.’

Rogue landlords kill people, but they could already be imprisoned. It’s a bit like the lighter sentences given for death by dangerous driving, which never make sense to me. Causing tenants to live in shed, killing them by rogue electrics, beating them up should be properly sanctioned. Which they are.

I get the impression that with renting, no politician actually get it, because they don’t do it. Renting for them all is a brief and tricky sojourn, in halls of residence or even ‘rooms ‘ at Oxbridge, and then in better homes while they save to buy, not a way of life forever. MP’s who rent do not suffer the enduring insecurity suffered by renters at the ‘affordable’ end of the market, where a request for essential repairs will see them shown the door.

Rogue landlords are vile, on this we can agree. But far worse for tenants is the short term insecurity, the never knowing how long you can stay, and accepting that if you press for repairs can be given notice on a carefree caprice.

Rogues are very, very bad, but there is a greater wrong.