Sunday, 22 June 2014

Cheap At The Price

This much we know for sure; where demand for rented homes is high, rents are racing upwards ever upwards. Elsewhere, i.e. the country know as Notlondon, rents do not rise so much.

We also know that the benefit cap and worse still, frozen rates of LHA combine to herd the low/no paid to the bottom of the renting heap.

All this combined means tenants race, frantically and desperately towards the lower end of the market, rushing to rent homes they might actually afford, which perversely perhaps means that demand is high in those cheaper areas.

Yes, some homes to rent are indeed cheaper. But, being naturally suspicious and believing that often, when things are cheap, they’re inexpensive for a reason, I always ask myself this question: why are these rented homes so cheap? Just what is about these places so ‘affordable’? What’s lacking – what’s missing?

The answer is simple. These low rent homes offer something different to those at the high end of the market.

1. Mould. They are full of mould. Plenty of mould, covering all surfaces. What do you mean mould is unhealthy and linked to respiratory illness? Jeesh – some people are waaaay too fussy.

2. Seen with my own eyes – no central heating or even no heating at all. ‘Well - it’s let unfurnished’ offered the letting agent (without laughing, since you ask.)

3. The thrill of knowing the owner plans to sell ASAP and then turf the tenant out. Hopefully with proper notice, but hey – perhaps not. Maybe you can stay a while.

4. The neighbourhood is really dubious, with feral documentary crews scared to enter. But they now insist the street is a dystopian fantasy, a TV set or Dickens theme park. Police vans riding round in convoy. But – yes, you might just afford the rent.

5. The schools are so bad that the UN is in control.

6. There are few transport links: no trams, trains or buses and nobody can afford a car. Buses appear only when the satnav plays tricks. Fares are expensive, which means a trip the supermarket is a costly treat, and outings must be planned like an invasion.

7. The neighbours. They’re interesting. And confrontational. And vocal. They debate with each other. Frequently.

8. The walls are rickety. I’ve seen this. They might actually move – especially the internal partitions, which can be made of cardboard or plaster board. That’s because the owner has added several teeny-tiny extra rooms.

9. The furniture. It’s broken, infested with vermin including fleas, and damp runs in torrents down the walls.

10. Some homes to rent are so cheap you could be forgiven for suspecting they might lack basic amenities. Like floors, for example. I’ve seen this – a low cost flat where the bathroom floor was about to cave in.

11. best of all – tenants here often find they have ‘interesting’ rentiers who are real ‘characters.’ I hate the term rogue landlords, but this lot abuse it. They stack tenants up like fish-fingers in a freezer and refuse even request for minor repairs. They threaten, menace and intimidate. How entertaining.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Army Life.

I owe this post to the excellent Digs: the action group campaigning
for better renting in Hackney (look them up, support them, follow them - they're brilliant.)

They were holding a public meeting about the private rental sector and invited the great, the good and the interested. They also seem to have invited someone less able to cope with whole tricky process of thinking.
Digs, you see, had invited a Tory councilor who seemed keen to prove just how out of touch the Tories really are. When discussions reached the nature of being a tenant, how insecure life is, how London tenants can be moved profitably on by rentiers and letting agencies every six months, and think themselves lucky if they remain in one home for three years, the civic representative refused to believe it was tough at all.

Digs proceeded to discuss how, after the initial agreement reaches renewal point, tenants live on a rolling contract and can be given just two months notice. The threat is constant; the fear is genuine.

This particular councillor was so stupid, it was clear she must have stockpiled most of the world's supply of stupid and was now hoarding all the stupid and using it herself, all the better to say stupid things. In short - she was stupid.

She claimed (I am spluttering as I write this) that being forced to move on every six months or so with just two months notice was no worse than being in the army, because soldiers are often forced to relocate at short notice.
I've just banged my head on the desk again whilst typing it. (I'm going to have to stop doing that whenever a tory says something stupid - I am forever in pain.)

Anyway...for a soldier, being housed is a certainty. There's no undermining sense that you, your family, and your children could be without a home, fall through cracks and end up in a B&B or a hostel if you can't find a place you can afford, or you can't find a guarantor, or you're on housing benefit.

Soldiers who are transferred abroad or home again, are guaranteed a home. If they are compelled to leave one house, they will be allocated another. They move around in the sure and certain knowledge that safe, secure home will be theirs at the end of their journey. No ifs. No buts. No matter who: single parents (rare but hey, it happens) families, singletons, everyone old or young will be housed. Simple.

What's more, there are strict rules about cleanliness of homes: they're scrubbed to military precision after relocation. It's scoured clean. Or else.

There's no finding another deposit or rent in advance upfront while the agent holds on to your current money. No van hire. No storage centres. The army does it.

So Ms. Stupid Tory Councillor: don't you dare... DON'T YOU DARE! tell tenants that moving within the UK’s rented sector is the same as army life. It isn't. It's just that being shot at is rare (but not unknown).

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Secret Hidden Homelessness.

It’s a tragic, hideous, inevitable, and scandalous but sure and certain fact that homelessness is rising everywhere.

Paradoxically, the causes are both simple and complex: there is a straightforward lack of homes with scant new building, in some areas of high demand rents are rising and those on no/low pay (even anyone on moderate wages) can’t cover their rent. Then we have the tyranny of no fault and revenge evictions, coupled with both the bedroom tax and the benefit cap.

It all adds to desperate people with nowhere to live, and to councils without council housing to place even those in need. There’s more to this than the ultimate, abject misery of rooflessness. There are many vulnerable people who are just about clinging on by their fingertips to having a roof over their head, with many, varied groups who live under the constant threat of being turfed out; in constant danger having nowhere safe to go:

1. Adult children outstaying their welcome, certain that the next row or even disagreement could see them shown t he door.

2. People whose relationship is over, but who are stuck in one home when they cannot afford to separate and each find somewhere new to live.

3. Tenants aware that their rentier (or so-called ‘forced landlord’) who couldn’t sell when in negative equity is itching to sell up and give them notice asap. They might only discover this when people call to ‘view’ their home. They will be given two months notice.

4. Those who gratefully endure a punitive, grinding chain of perpetual sofa-surfing, house-sitting, returning to stay with family at weekends or when work is slow and bleak, but who cannot present to local authorities as homeless due to having no local connection or insufficient ‘priority need.’

5. Homeowners who are behind with the mortgage, and who try so hard to keep up with agreements to pay the backlog but who are just not earning enough. They will wait until the day the bailiffs arrive and the stress is crippling.

6. Those who know they can be bedroom-taxed when their adult child leaves home, but who can’t downsize.

7. Tenants in areas of high demand (especially London) who read property sites in terror, bracing themselves for the horrendous rises in rents and house prices, keenly aware that their home is not a home but an asset to be sold on to the highest bidder whenever possible. There is no such thing as a sitting tenant in these circumstances anymore. They’ll be out in two months.

8. People who work on short term contracts with insecure jobs and low precarious pay, who know that few bad weeks will put them behind.

They’re not quite homeless. Not yet homeless. Not yet out on the street. But inevitably they will be out. A home is a right not a privilege. So just imagine how difficult daily life is, for the worried people who make up this enormous social group: pity the soon to be homeless.