[Ben Reeve Lewis looks at two views of the housing crisis …]
I was intrigued this week to see the start of a series on BBC 1 presented by Matt Alwright of ‘Rogue Traders’ fame called “The Housing Enforcers”.
It has been going out at 9am each morning following different councils and looking at how they deal with the worst landlords and the worst properties.
I haven’t seen any of them, as at that time of the day I’m out doing it for real and cant be arsed to watch them on BBC iPlayer, as who wants to go home and watch a TV programme about what you have just spent the last 8 hours doing?
In actual fact several months ago I was asked by 24 Productions who make the programme if I could spend some time training Matt in the rudiments of landlord tenant law.
Trouble is, they seemed to think I would do it for nothing…….as if?!?!?!
Getting real about the housing crisis
Mr A introduced the series with a piece in the Daily Mirror where I was pleased to see that spending a few weeks in my world he changed his previously simplistic notion of rogue landlords and acknowledged:
“The majority of private landlords aren’t a demonic class of Rachmans and Van Hoogstratens. Most were trying to provide decent homes.
Some had to contend with nightmare tenants who trashed their houses.
Some had no money to repair inherited crumbling properties. And some were, frankly, a bit useless and disinterested.”
Going on to say:
“The real problem seemed to be supply and demand: If there aren’t enough houses, but people always need houses, what is there to encourage landlords to behave responsibly?”
The multiple bullet approach
The thing is, speaking as a housing enforcer myself Matt, you don’t need to persuade most landlords to behave responsibly, they do it anyway as decent human beings would.
You focus on the rogues and hit them with everything you’ve got in your arsenal, from planning enforcement notices, building notices, demolition orders, involving HMRC, injunctions, damages claims and on and on, until they either clean up their act or get out of the business.
There is no single bullet to the head for these guys, it’s a long slog of targeting and keeping up the pressure.
The Prof begs to differ
Beneath Matt Allwright’s piece in the hard copy of the Daily Mirror was a short few paragraphs by University of Oxford Professor Danny Dorling promoting his book “All that is solid”.
It seems an interesting read but at £20 I wont be buying it so I went researching and found a piece on his housing views in the Times Higher Education Supplement.
He doesn’t agree with the TV presenters views on the housing shortage, which is also held by most housing professionals. Instead he offers up that the problem isn’t housing shortage but inequality and the inefficient use of housing.
He points out that there are, even now, more bedrooms in London than people and yet second homes and investment homes lay empty while elsewhere people live in sheds.
His view is that what underpins this largely is a gross inequality in the British political psyche that isn’t evident in all European countries.
“Fundamentally, the meaning of housing has changed in the UK. It is no longer seen – by the government, institutions, property capitalists and individual owners – as a right, but primarily as an asset to be traded.
The outcome is potential misery for the young, the old, the poor, the reasonably well-off and most people in between.”
Says Dan, and who am I to argue with him? Him being a professor and me with just me driving licence.
Corporate renting comes to town
And if Danny Dorling is calling for new ways to approach the housing crisis he isn’t the only one. Reading Tessa’s Landlord Law Blog roundup on Sunday led me to an article on a new scheme called “Corporate Renting”
I ended up having quite a long discussion with Frazzy about what this all meant. She is an excellent person to bounce my ideas off as (a) she is not involved in my work at all (b) she knows nothing of the machinations of the housing business and (c) she has about as much sympathy for the jobless and homeless as the Bullingdon Club.
So her views are quite challenging and often carry a lot of good old fashioned West Indian common sense. Her favourite expression on human folly being “If you don’t see, you feel”.
Anyway, I digress.
So what is it then?
Corporate renting, so the BBC article explains, is the latest import from the USA where it is common.
Basically they are corporations who build and run thousands of properties that have been specially designed to attract and retain professional tenants and keep costs down, including having specially designed skirting boards that can be dusted easily and whole flats that are capable of simply being steam cleaned between tenants.
Director of Essential Living Ian Merrick explains that what they are looking for is tenants who will stay longer, saying:
“If they stay, we’ve made hundreds of thousands of pounds, If I could get them to three or four years, I’m laughing,”
People moving into their upcoming new development Archway Towers in North London can expect to find fresh lemons, boutique olive oil and the latest Jamie Oliver on the bookshelves so there is no doubt about who their customer base is.
So I went and had a look at their website and their heart is most definitely on their sleeve.
They have certainly put their finger on a particular type of tenant and property and neatly highlight the concerns of private tenants everywhere, when they say:
“The demand for rental is on the rise, but for tenants, the current market leaves much to be desired meaning they must deal with:
- Confusing contracts
- Onerous move-ins
- Inflexible tenures
- Inaccessible or aloof landlords
- No sense of community
- Poor quality/inefficient buildings
- Inadequate space
- No sense of ownership
- Hidden expenses
- No customer service
- Poor maintenance
I’m liking them already.
And I’m liking them all the more when further down the page they label tenants over 35, which is me, as “Not necessarily young” haha. How clever is that?
But will it help anything?
But the thing is, what are they bringing to the renting market that will help the housing crisis? Not a lot really.
They are merely focussing on young and …..I have to get it in again…..”Not necessarily young” tenants who are working professionals. Basically they’re just a housing association for hipsters.
My landlords are great. The don’t always put the rent up, they always do repairs promptly with no quibble and best of all…..I’ve never met them. They are portfolio landlords who know what they are doing and as long as we pay the rent and don’t abuse the property both parties are happy.
So what’s new about Essential Living? Is it even a radical product?
Things aren’t going to change for the current shed dwellers and people I see crammed in loft spaces, who’ll be looking, longingly up at Archway Towers from the decidedly grubby Holloway Road.
The status quo that Danny Dorling refers to are’t going to be hanging up their guitars anytime soon (did you see what I did there?)…….
See ya next week.