Sunday, 26 January 2014

Because We Want To

Imagine this: being refused entry to an open supermarket because it’s Wednesday. Or being denied the use of a road because the council, without justification, feel like it – or because you’ve got funny hair. Or being thrown out of a restaurant halfway through a meal because you asked, politely, for a clean fork. Or thrown off a train for being poor, and in 2nd class.

Not wishing to harp on about those damn Wilsons, but for me the most shocking part of the whole sorry tale is the fact they could evict their tenants because they want to. Much is made by Shelter, the various housing ministers and media about rogue landlords, when for me, the worst problem in the whole rented sector is the sense of insecurity.

It works this way. Tenants move in, and letting agents insist on a six month, assured short-term tenancy. Some – the minority – renew with another contract of similar length. If you’re really fortunate, you’re allowed a whole twelve months. But for others, the contract is not renewed – instead it’s ‘rolled over’. This means you don’t endure the continuous renewal fees payable in England, but the other effect is that occupants need only be issued with two months notice when the urge to turf them out strikes.

No-fault evictions are the bain of every tenant’s life. Rentiers commonly chuck out perfectly fine tenants because they can, and because they want to. No need for a reason – even if the secret, hidden cause is owners thinking they can earn more money, or that tenants have insisted on essential repairs, which is known as retaliatory evictions.

Where demand is high and supply limited, I’ve heard of occupants guessing that their lord and effective master is looking elsewhere only when the front door opens and prospective new occupants are shooed hurriedly around. Oh – and they’ve been texted to explain their task is to clean up and ‘be nice.’

This is all perfectly lawful (if a bit stupid) and tenants must even keep their heads down and be nice to avoid their seigneur cursing them with a bad reference. Landlords keep one eye on making more money, and even issue notice to quit, which is withdrawn if they fail to get a better offer. Yep – this happens, especially in property hot-spots.

This highlights another inherent problem with renting – that of amateur rentiers, who thrive on making sure their tenants i.e. the saps who subsidise their pensions or business portfolio are permanently on tenterhooks.

Precarious life, seeped in insecurity makes people ill. No fault evictions are wrong. They’re helpful to nobody – even landlords suffer. They facilitate prejudice, enhance insecurity, and are curse on long term plans. Simply losing your private sector home is now one the main causes of homelessness, and local council must pick up the pieces from the shattered lives caused by short termist cruelty.

To evict a tenant, rentiers should, be forced by law to provide a damn good , evidenced reason.

Either that or letting renters to be empowered to vacate without prejudice because the owner of their home has bad taste in clothes.

Which brings me back, neatly, back to the Wilsons and their hideous Burberry.

Monday, 20 January 2014


For some tenants, renting is a constant source of joy. Just one, vast panorama of happiness. A gorgeous extemporanea full of glee. For others, mostly the impoverished renter, whose work is precarious or those crammed in and insecure where demand is impossible high, it’s horrible.

The device that enables me to see search terms used to reach me here often serves to flag up common concerns. In other cases, people have contacted me to share their stories. The recurring, distressing, but I suppose, inevitable theme is flatmates in shared homes, not just hostile HMO’s, but supposed friendly shared houses with joint tenancies who are very worried about money.

It’s getting quite nasty. Some co-tenants knew each other before moving, others join a new family of convenience, living at close quarters with people they barely know. They share a world of unwanted intimacy, and they usually learn more about each other than is desirable or ideal.

But their lives are linked. I am being told of many examples of austerity biting and damaging the sense of distance most co-tenants seem to want.

One renter tells me of realising food was missing. Nothing major – just morsels really, as if someone had been trying to discreetly and surreptitiously feed themselves. She knew her co-tenant was having a tough time, but realised he was just plain hungry. She did her best to help, by not mentioning it, and offering to share meals, and donating ‘spare’ food. Her flatmate was later seen in tears, holding a parcel from the foodbank.

People everywhere are being forced to share rented homes – that includes claimants under 35, who might - let’s remember - be in work. Life is precarious, job contracts are short-term, pay is low, and people are pushed together. What do you do, when you know that someone is in trouble? When that trouble could affect you?

Then there are bills. How do you share the cost, when people cannot afford to pay monthly, or others cannot pay at all? There are communal meals – even trips to the pub, where one tenant is always, always, busy, and the others feel guilty.

There’s rent. People often elect one person to pay from their account, which is tricky if you’re paid late. Someone shares with an old friend who wasn’t paid for months on end, and he had to cover her share. The employer eventually went under, and he was struggling to find enough shifts himself, so it was a nightmare. He found her in tears. She’d taken a payday loan.

They took debt advice, and eventually had their card meter removed, so they could pay regularly throughout the year, instead of massive amounts in the winter. They paid off the arrears, but they had worked together. Not everyone is close enough or kind enough to do that.

It’s the sense of knowing that people are not your responsibility, but caring nonetheless. When, and where do you draw the line - do you feed them, or does concern stop simply run to polite, ‘caring faces’ and platitudes?

This is another problem that will get worse and worse. Renting isn't funny anymore.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Rein In Those Wilsons.

I’m battling with feeling peeved that it took some media outlets years to wake up to the fact that renting is frequently horrific. I’m pleased for the publicity, feeling vindicated, but equally certain that so much of this new outrage stems from publicity surrounding the vile ,self-satisfied, smug, greedy, pompous, self-entitled, self-justified Wilsons and their ‘…but we have to raise the rents.’

I often wonder, why must rents rise. Is it necessity? Is it the expense of running and managing property? No. It’s done because of high demand, which is blatant profiteering. But you can’t get away with it everywhere.

Rents rose fastest on an annual basis in London, where they increased by 4.4%, followed by the south-west (3.4%) and the south-east (3.2%). Rents fell by 5.5%, or an average of £42, in eastern England, 2.8% in the West Midlands, and 2% in the north-east, Yorkshire and the Humber. Most of Scotland is falling in real terms, too – except Edinburgh

They’re not rocketing up where unemployment is high, is the basic fact here. So here’s the issue, the mammoth in the room - rent control.

Rent control is what we need. Labour are against it, as are Shelter. But rent control is essential, to stop rentiers thumbing their noses at reason, and indulging their rapacious acquisitive natures. The odious Wilson’s insist it is their feudal right to charge as much as they see fit, not because of their own costs or any justifiable need, but because they want more money. Rents rise because of a degenerate, over-arching desire for profit, not because of the need to cover necessary prices involved in letting homes – not even interest rates, and rises outstrip inflation.

Before the usual suspects whine that renting was stagnating in the 80’s, that was because of the large amount of owners and the reasonable price of home-owning – more owner-occupiers means less tenants, so lower rents. Buying the first of several homes cost just 2.5 of the average income, and wages were higher with bills much lower in comparison.

But here’s the point. These buildings are homes. Vital, essential, necessary homes for people to live in, not holiday cottages, or your pied-a-terre in the city. It’s a home.

When people can’t afford a home, or worse- nobody will let to them, then where will they live? The streets, that’s where, and homelessness, actual rough sleeping is on the rise.

Certain property ‘professionals’ are delighted by the rise in rents. They forget that increasing rents because of demand is profiteering. When house-building gets under way the likes of the Wilsons will get their richly deserved come-uppance. They lord it over people’s lives, masters of their security, peace and fate. Worse still dubious, flaky wealth-on-paper has made them judgemental. They don’t understand that they benefited from state ‘hand-outs’ – the Wilsons are the scroungers, not their benighted tenants.

Meanwhile note to the odious, rent profiteering Wilsons – local housing allowance is paid one month in arrears, even before Universal Credit/Cockup is introduced.

But then, those Wilsons resemble Edward and Tubbs from The League of Gentleman, which keeps me smiling. I take my fun where I can at times like this.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

I Look Down On You Because…

In every city, on every street, across the country, in every building, a quiet battle is taking place, between ‘them’ (who’s ‘them’?) and us (who, exactly, is ‘us’?) The battle lines are fixed, and the adversaries are owner-occupiers, and tenants. Neither is innocent. Neither is blameless, both misbehave.

My experience was of glowering frostiness, then simple simmering fury - an icy chill whenever I saw my neighbour. I had no idea why. Then, by power of thought alone, I worked out what the problem was. This was after she had insulted Landgirl, and just been, well…odd. The problem was that I should have been cleaning the landing floor. I thought it was down to the caretaker, or ‘factor’ as we say in Scotland, but no – the occupants were supposed to mop the floors. The eternally and splendidly useless letting agents had failed to let me know. The grimacing continues.

In certain other buildings, absentee buy-to-let rentiers rent out homes to tenants who embrace the freedom and transience renting offers – short-term at least. In some extreme cases, they hold frequent noisy parties, scream loudly on the way home at night, do not empty the bins, leave litter lying around etc. They even – literally – shit on their own doorstep. But since they could be moved on, or choose to move every six months, so why bother building happy friendships?

I’ve many tales of recent graduated young-professionals, saving to buy, in place for as short a time as possible. Students are sometimes unpopular for similar reasons, but their transience is virtually guaranteed. Nasty for my friends partner, who works shifts as a nurse. But when you might be turfed out in six months time, it’s difficult to summon any enthusiasm for the communal cleaning rota or regimented weeding. But at least you could take out the bins on time.

It’s not always true that tenants don’t care. Some - I’d even venture, most - tenants behave in an exemplary fashion. They smile at neighbours, check on the elderly, bake for the street etc.

Much of this antipathy is caused, I suspect by snobbery, by a variant of the diktat ‘show me someone in rented housing beyond the age of twenty-five and I’ll show you a failure.’ Tenants are viewed as too poor to own, and therefore feckless, with little understanding that even in an HMO, they will be likely to be employed, disastrously paid, and goaded by disrepair, will leave ASAP.

This can result in hatred. One friend was subjected to a campaign of hostility and intimidation. She had moved in to what had previously been home to her unpopular rentier, so neighbours blamed my friend for the floods caused by his refusal to repair. But as a tenant, at least she could move. It was costly, and onerous. But move she did.

If you, the owner occupiers, realised just how much we, the temporary tenants envied you with your security, choice, and safety. This situation will worsen. That’s my prediction for 2014. One of them, at least.