[Ben Reeve Lewis is a bit tangential this week…]
My week has been dominated by an abscess on a tooth which causes me to sit at the keyboard looking like half man, half hamster.
Its now not too painful but the poison from it is in my bloodstream, making me lightheaded and prone to wander off topic a lot.
Frazzles is looking at me strangeley as I was just pontificating about the austerity protests in Europe, whilst managing to tie in theories of 18th century tulip values, whether or not the pickle in a Big Mac is a good idea and the demise of the Beano. All in one seamless, logical whole.
Needless ot say I haven’t been in work to nick any landlords and I also haven’t been studying the housing news or sending out tweets, so bear with me if my column this week goes slightly off piste from time to time or if I seem to find the more bizarre stories to match my fevered brain.
At least my abscess gets you out of hearing me witter on about rent levels.
How the new squatting rules haven’t stopped squatting
Squatting caught my eye. I knew that the new squatting rules wouldn’t stop it. People will always find ways around restrictions placed on them. The glaring gap in the LASPO regulations being commercial premises and this is being seized on by squatting groups.
The Evening Standard (or for those Londoners who can remember when it was a paid for paper, the news-vendors outside stations yelling “EEEEEEN STAAAN”) reported of the Michael Jackson old rehab clinic the ‘Charter’ just off the Kings Road becoming home to a bunch of people taking advantage of the LASPO terminaology
Their neighbour Robert Bitteto complained:-
“I rent my house and it is upsetting to think we are paying an absolute fortune for a place and they are just there for nothing. I hope they get them out.”
His argument isn’t then based on the morality of squatting but the fact that his neighbours getting a similar property for free. Perhaps he should move in with them then.
Implementing government policy
What annoys me about knee jerk reactions to squatters is the presumption that they are just lazy beggars looking for a free doss.
Squatting has a long and honourable history. The article itself points out that the property has been empty since 2007. This at a time when there is a massive government backed campaign to bring empty properties back into use, which is what the Charter squatters are doing, implementing government policy.
One of the group said the most simple and eloquent thing I have read in an age:-
“I just want to be somewhere warm and dry for Christmas. We live as a community and we have all been priced out of the rental market. A lot of us are young, have been to university and are trying to work and live. This place has been empty for more than five years, we aren’t making a scene. It doesn’t make sense to get us to leave.”
Whats so unreasonable about that?
A new landlord at the Cross Keys
Last week the EEEEEN STAAAAAAN also reported on the squatting group occupying the Cross Keys pub in Chelsea
A similarly responsible squat. Once inside the group hung up a sign to alert the neighbours saying:-
“Hello neighbours, we are your friendly local squatters.I can assure you that we are quiet and respectful and we would love to seamlessly become a part of your community. We are keeping your pub safe and tidy until it is going to be used again.”
What is instructive about that sign is the last bit, “We are keeping your pub safe and tidy until it is going to be used again.”, which makes a nonsense of the idea that squatters think they are going to hang onto the accommodation for ever. They know that its always a short term thing.
Does it not make sense in a housing climate such as the one we are on to make use, even temporarily of empty premises? Of course nobody wants to live next door to a bunch of loud, inconsiderate nutbags but you can have those in rented or owned properties, the problem surely is the behaviour not the legal rules under which they occupy their accommodation?
Writing on the Cross Keys squat for the far from squatter friendly Daily Telegraph, the appropriately named Harry Wallop noted:-
“Inside, the pub has been looked after. The bar and restaurant (wagyu beefburger with truffle fries used to be on the menu at £16) are pretty tidy and the squatters say that they have cleared up the mouse problem and leak they discovered when they moved in. The glasses behind the bar have been cleaned and the ashtrays and empty coffee cups are less messy than the average student digs.”
The right to protest
I tweeted about the right to protest before I turned into the delirious elephant man and received a reply saying “There is a time and a place”, to which I responded “Who decides the time and place? You? Me? The government?”
Did Ghandi consider who would be inconmvenienced when protesting about the mistreatment of Indians? Did Martin Luther King in 1960s America? Did the anti-war protestors 10 years ago? Is the pickle in a Big Mac such a good idea?……sorry, lost it for a minute there.
The Daily Mail gets interesting
Of course there are creative middle ground alternaives to squatting. An interesting story in the Daily Mail (God I must really be delirious…..did I just wrote those 7 words?????) talks of Jax and David Ayton whose Darlington home was trashed by a former tenant, then plundered by metal thieves to such an extent that they can’t afford to do it up.
They have taken the creative step of deciding to hold X Factor style auditions for tenants, hopefully without the mind-numbingly irrlevent Louie Walsh, to find a tenant who will be prepared to live there rent free and do it up, at which point they will start paying rent at a normal price.
A good deal?
I’m a great fan of creative problem solving but lets think this one through. The landlords say the repairs are priced at between £17,000 and £23,000, money they cant afford, hence the deal. This suggests to me that the tenant will be shelling out £17,000 – £23,000 to do it up, which is hardly living rent free.
Then there are the legalities of letting out an unfit property, the Defective Premises Act 1972 immediately springs to mind plus the likelihood of a plethora of HHSRS Category 1 hazards. Leaving Mr and Mrs Ayton open to personal injury claims.
Once the tenant has renovated the property from top to bottom what’s to stop the landlord then simply invoking Section 21 and oiking them out? Absolutely nothing. (Indeed – see here for a real life horror story – Ed]
People buy run down properties and live in them while they do them up. They spend a fortune and put in some back breaking work to get it habitable but at the end of the day they own it. Mr and Mrs Ayton are expecting tenants to put money and effort into improving their investment with no guarantees of home security and it clearly isn’t really rent free.
Of course the Daily Mail love it. Tenants to them being just another version of indentured servitude.
Mr and Mrs Ayton seem to want to have their cake and eat it, But would it taste the same if it had one of those pickles they put in a Big Mac?
Ben Reeve Lewis