Tuesday, 29 October 2013


It was another scandal waiting to happen. The BBC have belatedly discovered that letting agents, lovely, lovely letting agents, those kindly, munificent do-gooders were quite willing to assist landlords reject black tenants. We were all shocked Shocked! SHOCKED!!! I tell you.

The chortling was widespread. Landlords get whatever they want, and so refuse necessary housing to whoever they deem 'undesirable' no matter how vile, unreasonable, or absurdly arcane their reasoning. Tenants have been aware of this since forever, and know that no matter what the law decrees, a subtle nod and a furtive stage wink will give a discreet thumbs down to applicants landlords don't fancy housing. With social homes in decline, that fact this is widespread in the private sector is extremely worrying.

I do not wish to downplay the corrosive and horrendous nature of racial discrimination in the private rented market, but it's worse than the BBC imagined. Private housing is treated by owners as a medieval fiefdom. So here's the full list of people also discriminated against by owners I’ve heard of:

1 Older tenants (they will stay too long).
2 Younger tenants (they will have parties and move).
3 Families with children (noisy kids).
4 Single people (they will move, or move in partners).
5 Single parents (feckless, of course - The Daily Fail says so, ergo it's a fact).
6 Childless couples (they will move).
7 Freelancers (unreliable – despite this being the preferred employment method of most businesses).
8 Shift workers (will supposedly disrupt neighbours)
9 Anyone the owner or agent 'doesn't like the look of,' (excuses all other excuses here).
10 Gay people (simple prejudice).
11 People with certain regional accents (just... because).
12 People that owners have to yet to meet in person meet but don't like the sound of on the phone (who knows why.)
13 You know, 'them - people who seemed a bit... well... kind of: you know (you know… them…)'
14 People who they suspected had been drinking for no clear reason (the view that all tenants are ‘chaotic’).
15 Mental health service users (routine - even endemic).
16 Ex-prisoners - even with spent convictions (even though tenants can’t say the same to rentiers).
17 Students (will party hard then leave).
18 Service men and women (not sure why).
19 People who are either of the previous two (go figure).
20 Anyone without an unrealistically, angelically clear credit record (that is, most of us, except landlords could be as dodgy as hell and we will never know).
20 Artists (who knows why).
21 People saving up to buy (they will move ASAP).
22 People who have moved around every six months - despite only offering six month tenancies themselves (owners suspect the real reason is being evicted bad behaviour).

That list is utterly unreasonable. There’s no way of appealing or challenging it, since it's unrecorded, and standards shift - what one rentier likes in a tenant is loathed by another. You do wonder who exactly is good enough to live in a property since all tenants must be perfect. Just perfect. Inhumanly perfect, wonderful in an otherworld, not-of-this-planet sort of way. In short - nobody fits the bill.



Monday, 21 October 2013


In every major city, there are neighbourhoods full of old-style, poorer 'traditional' housing, now re-evaluated, then probably or hopefully, appreciated once more.

In Northern cities, it's the terraces: street full of reconfigured two-up, two down homes. In Scotland meanwhile, it's the tenements. Many of both types of these old homes were demolished – regarded as hovels, since they were considered and designated remorseless incubators of disease and poverty, perhaps with justification. In some places, like the bizarre ‘Pepperpot Park’ in Eccles, they were remade.

Before that, Manchester lost the Georgian slums of Hulme, which were covered with newbuild flats on top of demolished sixties monstrosities, while Glasgow destroyed the largely unmourned Gorbals, celebrated for a sense of community, but universally demonised for overcrowding etc.

Remaining tenements are now considered to be quite desirable. The best examples, like the ‘Greek’ Thomson flats in Cessnock are lovely. I've been told by architects that the reason they are still standing is simply that are very hard to knock down, because they were so well-built and sturdy.

Tenements are far from perfect. In fact they are often problematic. Firstly because when first built, they lacked bathrooms, meaning that several flats (they would never be called apartments) would share an outside toilet, while washing facilities for both human bodies and their clothes were communal, in 'steamies' and bathhouses. Sometimes, the concept or memory of joyous community masks a lack of dignity, with no privacy.

Updated, renovated tenements often have bathrooms placed in what were once cupboards, box-rooms or larders, none of which were designed to vent steam and condensation. The proportions of the newly valued homes might seem generous now, but remember this: visitors, socially minded commentators and charities used to wonder why children always played outside, and blamed parental neglect. The real reason was a large, possibly multi-generational family squeezed and huddled sleeping in 'end tenements.'

The kitchen was the warmest room in the house. Indeed, in some examples it was the only room in the house. Many featured a now illegal niche, which contained, next to the range, a double-bed, where everyone would sleep, well - those not sleeping on the floor, or wherever they could squeeze. That’s one whole family in one bed. Now – that’s actual squalor. This meant bedding next to an open fire, with all that entailed: it was a hazard, and deaths were commonplace.

Glasgow's People's Palace shows an end tenement on permanent display. It's truly sobering to see where people lived, slept, ate, cooked, reproduced somehow and died - all in one tiny, airless room, complete with a chamber pot. There was little dignity, scant room to for privacy, and malnourished occupants would have dreamed of living in a lovely, lofty, airy mansion flat, where they could study, eat, sleep separately and breathe.

These days, no end terraces remain, and all tenements have been refurbished or demolished. Tenements can be cold and hard to insulate, but are still desirable. Please remember this: they now house one or two people, not an entire large family.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Mansion Flats

When `I lived in London, I used to envy my friend's flat. His home was in Fulham, and it was beautiful. This was a 'mansion flat,' a type of building, I think, unique to London: an apartment designed in late Victorian/early Edwardian times and built to the highest specification.

What made it so good? Perhaps this stems of my years in stunted, rickety newbuilds or shoddy conversions, but I was then, and still am now, amazed by the costly, understated comfort, and easy grandeur. The rooms had cornices, occasional examples have plaster mouldings and decorative fireplaces. The rooms open onto a long, elegant corridor, some even have balconies, and then there are 'pantries,' or what we might today call utility rooms. The doors are thick wooden panels, and the ceilings are high.

When they were first built, the original residents would have employed domestic servants: a daily maid-of-all-work at least - perhaps a resident maid. Laundry would have been sent out, so there was no need for drying space, as is palpably the case now.

The grandest, the best of the high-end mansions flats overlooked well-tended communal gardens. They also had open fireplaces, ranges in the kitchen, and probably a porter, to accept post; to fetch and carry. Life was good for those lucky occupants. The 'gentleman of the house' would have worked, while the 'lady' would have... been a suffragette? Were they renting their home? Possibly. It might have been a convenient, city-centre pied-a-terre, used by those who owned land, perhaps an estate, or even another home or farm in the country, reached by the new rail system. Amenities like parks were close by.

Mansion flats had lifts, lobbies, and were never second best. These new style of homes aimed high, since they were intended for a 'better sort' of resident: professionals, academics, surgeons, bankers, or business people. Class is the key issue here, since it wasn't simply that richer people could afford better (larger, brighter, warmer, safer) homes. They were considered to be entitled to them.

What this meant for those lucky enough to live in mansion flats was dignity borne privacy, seclusion, space for study, and room to socialise. Storage for shopping, a sense of separation, room to live but space to gather when required. There would also have been a bathroom, complete with actual bath, in a time when cleanliness really was next to godliness and not a simple matter of personal hygiene. Occupants collected kept possessions, like books and spare clothes.

And poorer people? Some new housing associations and foundations gave a (highly judgemental) damn about the poor - The Guiness and Peabody Trusts built some fine housing for their tenants, provided they worked to 'better' themselves, avoiding 'idleness,' ‘godlessness’ and drink. Remind you of anyone? As for these poor people who worked for the owners of mansion flats, or who served them, begged from them or obeyed the orders they issued? Well they lived in slums or tenements. More on them next in my next post.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Party Time Is Over

So, now we can take a breather – you know, go for a lie down, have cup of tea – stuff like that. You see, the party political conferences are all over, so we can return to normal business, like struggling to pay rent or find work etc relying on politicians to make all the big bad, renting monsters go away and then to kiss it all better.

Yes indeed - all three main parties have realised that tenants, who rent but do not, cannot, and will probably never buy a home, can still vote. You've had Labour's former housing spokesman on 'transparent agent fees' and even Pickles playing 'longer tenancies' but real tenants, that is - me too, are rarely asked. Now if anyone did care to ask us what policies we’d appreciate in the wonderful, sunny happy, happy, happy world of private renting…here’s what we would say:

1 Longer tenancies? yes please! But in Pickles tenants charter - there is a 'break clause' for longer tenancies, which will be abused without funded 'policing' to check owners really are selling up or housing family members. So there really be longer tenancies – the Tories are sort of saying ‘pretty please on longer tenancies’ when they should be saying: ‘Gimme!’

2 Rent controls - unpopular, but especially needed in London - when interest rates are low, rents rise high, high up above the sky because they can, not because there’s a need, such as costs. This could stop tomorrow, if anyone cared to be tough.

3 So-called 'forced landlords' must be compelled to tell tenants clearly that they will be selling the property i.e. someone else’s’ home so renters are aware their tenancy is inherently insecure, and will end whenever it suits rentiers.

4 Resources to protect tenants from the rare but vocal 'rogues' to be increased, right now. Tenancy Relation officers to increase in number, emergency help lines, better police training to prevent unlawful evictions.

5 Space standards in newbuild for BTL - no more cramming in rabbit hutches.

6 Landlord and letting agent licensing – and soon, please, properly funded and with really strong financial penalties such as losing the property for transgressions.

7 In HMO's or shared houses there must be minimum standards such as sufficient space, storage, bathrooms for tenants, including a seat in the common area for each tenant - so owners must also ensure provision of adequate 'common area' or lounges, as we used to call them in the olden days. This would end the practice of rent-to-let, so no more cramming tenants into box rooms to eat sleep, and do everything, in one tiny little room.

8 A national tenants forum is needed, to be consulted properly on new laws policy and all matters related to tenants, renting, building, buy-to-let, build to let. So that developers must listen and take the needs of tenants into account when building or planning – see previous post.

Here's to strict, properly funded, clear, researched red tape in rented housing - we need more of it. Much more.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

But What Shall We Build?

Build! Let's all build! Hooray! Let's build 200,000...buildings, yeah. Buildings. The more the better. Lot's of lovely, lovely buildings. Yay buildings! Well, that's the Labour attitude to lack of supply in London - it's not a problem in most places. (The Lib Dem attitude seems to be: '...erm, ask us one on sport, please.’ Just as it is with all things.)

Except... what kind of buildings shall we build? Big ones? Small ones? Homes to live, or investment piggy-banks, for accursed short-term tenants to sit in, quaking with anxiety and waiting to be given notice. We have endured decades of teeny, flimsy, punitive homes, which punish us for renting as opposed to buying. Even people who buy newbuilds to live in must be furious, when given the keys to their compacted, hard-won hutch.

Well, first of we need proper one and two bedroom flats – not ‘Dovecots,’ for the poor people rattling around in mansions paid for by the state *sarcasm klaxon* evicted because of the landlord profit subsidy known as the bedroom taxed housing benefit. They must be genuinely affordable, by actual resident earth human people, not billionaires. We also need proper family homes.

And in these buildings, the ones we will build (hooray!) can we also please have:
1 Gardens (or access to a garden.)
2 Storage, and plenty of it.
3 Enough space in bedrooms to place and then walk around a king-size bed, next to which there will be a wardrobe, chest of drawers, chairs, and room for all of this to actually open.
4 Storage
5 A utility room/utility cupboard for mops, hoovers, washer/driers, clothes racks, etc.
6 Somewhere to dry laundry - inside and out. That means no silly rules which prohibit drying on balconies.
7 Proper kitchens, with room enough for several (oh god, she's going to say cupboards again, isn't she...?) cupboards and cabinets for saucepans, crockery etc, as used by humans to cook.
8 A lounge with enough space for overnight guests to spread a double inflatable mattress.
9 A bathroom with shower over bath, dry enough and ventilated so that towels dry rather than fester in the squelching bloom of mould, which must not, for privacy and dignity's sake, open up on to the lounge.
10 Sound proofing, so we can't hear neighbour's lurrrve-action, or worse, pissing in the bathroom, their music or voices - not raised, just chatting.
11 A corridor. So that we can have privacy, and bathroom doors which open onto corridors, not lounges. Somewhere for damp coats to dry.
12 Proper space standards – not flats designed to suit what was built in the past. We need enough room to spread out, entertain visitors, assemble flat pack furniture, and work at desks while someone else is watching telly. Room for book shelves, ornaments etc.
13 Bike lock-ups.
14 Spare rooms. These will not be taxed, and will be used to store medical appliances, visiting children and other guests.

That's all,
Yours Sincerely Rentergirl.
PS - we'd also like to be able to stay in these buildings for a long time. Maybe even decades.