But as well as high rents, I don't believe that tenants are getting the service they deserve. There's a lot of lazy-arse landlords out there who think that ALL TENANTS ARE SCUM - especially those on housing benefit.
And yes, I know...there are some extremely disrespectful tenants out there. So let's just deal with that to begin with because I totally hold my hands up: There ARE tenants who don't give a shit. Who trash houses and run off leaving a ton of unpaid rent. I know that.
What I don't agree with, is the sort of institutionalised prejudice among landlords that BENEFITS = TROUBLE.
That's just bullshit paranoia. But take a look on some landlord's blog or discussion forum, and you see it time and time again.
Landlords who won't touch benefit claimants with a ten-foot barge-pole. Landlords who say that benefit claimants all get into rent arrears. Landlords who say that benefit claimants all trash your house.
It's prejudice. And I'm finding more and more that because of the existence of this prejudice, letting agents are asking tenants on benefits whether (because the landlord doesn't trust them, effectively) they can raise six months rent in advance.
Am I the only one who thinks this is utter madness?
How can someone on benefits raise six months rent plus a deposit plus the cost of removals? What happens to their housing benefit claims if they were to do that? Would the councils take the view that the tenant can raise that money again and refuse to pay the benefit? If so, the tenant may find themselves being evicted six months in!
If the tenant was able to raise six months rent in advance, how would their income support claim or jobseekers allowance claim be affected? I can't see the jobcentre taking too kindly to it.
No. Letting agents in particular are nothing but unregulated greedy bastards and the prejudice against tenants who aren't in work is getting worse.
The first thing to remember about people is that they are all infinitely different and all infinitely complex. They all behave in different ways and for different reasons. A high-flying toff is no less likely to smash your house up or skimp on the rent than an alcoholic on benefits.
ANYONE CAN CHOOSE TO SHIRK THEIR RESPONSIBILITIES.
What I think happens regularly, is that both parties to a tenancy agreement forgets what the other party represents. What their expectations are. What their rights and obligations are. What their motives are.
Tenants really, are looking for three very simple things. A home, an affordable rent and a landlord who cares about the business of renting out a house and takes it seriously.
A landlord is usually looking out for the interests of the property that they legally own. They have often worked hard to buy and maintain it and want to see the rent coming in to pay off their mortgage - which, let's not forget, is a legal commitment that they are tied up in as much as the tenant is the rent - and they want to see the property looked after to ensure and to maximise the long-term potential for the house to continue bringing in a rental payment. This is an investment for them. Renting the house to you is not a favour. It is not an obligation. It is a business.
But here's the problem. When entering into the business of renting, many landlords don't take the business side of it very seriously. They don't do their homework. They don't have access to the right resources, or the right legal advice. They only want to get the rent, without doing much of the graft that the status of the legal agreement places upon them. Any human being going into business needs to know without fail, as much about the legal implications of what they're doing as they can. They should also understand that there may be situations where access to the right advice will be crucial.
I have rented ever since leaving home at around age 20 and I'm now 36. In 16 years I've occupied 10 rented properties. And in that time, I can honestly say that there were two landlords who I didn't have trouble from, and one of them was the council.
However, without a shadow of a doubt, the worst landlords to date number only two. One of them sued me for damages I didn't cause, and the other has consistently delayed meeting their statutory repairing obligations, causing me unnecessary expense.
The first one we shall call Mrs R. When we viewed the house she warned us that it was a mess. That the carpets were shabby and the paintwork needed doing. We liked it though, and with two young kids we thought it didn't matter too much that the place was a little messy. But about a year into the tenancy, she came to do an inspection. She had her teenage daughter with her. She'd been warned by the gas-engineer who was at the house a week prior doing the gas safety check. He told her the house was a shambles, which was odd, because when he was at the house he commented to me how tidy it was compared to the other houses he visited.
She finished the inspection and gathered us in the lounge for a meeting. Lectured us that the house had become a shit-hole in our care. Then she turned to her daughter for agreement.
"Yes," said the child. "The place is a mess."
She wrote to us after that with a list of bollockings. But me and The Wife had had enough. We issued our notice to quit and eventually moved out, leaving our contact details, with evidence of having left our contact details.
A few weeks later, Mrs R sued us. £3,000 for damages. Rotten carpets, grubby paintwork. The whole house needed a refurb, she said. We defended it and the case dragged on for about a year. During this time, we found out from our Deposit Protection Service that she'd served a Statutory Declaration saying we hadn't supplied our new address and had left no contact details. The Service handed our deposit to her without question.
Now, making a false Statutory Declaration is a criminal offence against the Perjury Act. Once I was able to get my hands on a copy of the Declaration, I served it on the court with my statement. The court must have sent her a copy, because on the day of the trial, Mrs R withdrew her claim against us. She obviously knew she stood to be discredited and utterly shamed. Which would have been fine by me, after all that she put us through.
And this is exactly what happens when you feel you've been wronged. I've seen landlords express hope that their tenants end up in Cardboard City and the only thing the tenants did wrong was get into rent arrears. But does wishing that kind of misery on a tenant, particularly those with children, seem balanced?
No, I don't think so.
For me, seeing Mrs R shamed would have been justice because it was proportionate to the lies she was making up about me. Seeing a family sleeping rough because they got into rent arrears is somewhat disproportionate to the financial inconvenience experienced by the landlord.
But for landlords, money is obviously the reason they let their houses out. For tenants, the reason they rent is to provide a roof over their heads, or their family's heads. They may be near a school for their children and access to a nearby job.
There are clearly different motives for entering into a tenancy agreement, and given the perceived nature of loss, when things go wrong, the law unfortunately (as it so often does) comes down heavily in favour of the landlord. But despite that, I have seen too many landlords admit to behaviour that is unnecessary, thuggish and illegal. When faced with the challenge of having to evict problematic tenants (and you will recall that I do accept their existence), too many landlords have held their hands up to recruiting big men with baseball bats. I myself recently 'Un-Friended' someone on Facebook who coughed online to contemplating using thugs to evict tenants who were behind with their rent. And I'm sure that to him, his tenants may have been a worry. They may have been causing him a few sleepless nights. But such is the nature of business. I've had plenty of sleepless nights in my time, worrying about clients and their cases. Worrying that a psychiatrist might not get a psychiatric evaluation done in time. It doesn't mean that I gave a thought to threatening him with a weapon though.
Business is stressful, and you can't solve a legal dispute with illegal violence. You undermine the entire system. Why do you think the Protection From Eviction Act exists in the first place? Because of unscrupulous landlords fucking everyone over, that's why. And it's all starting to happen again.
Me, I welcome Labour's proposals to cap rents. They do indeed need capping. Landlords are jumping on a band-wagon. People can't buy, so they know they're in demand. And being in demand means they can hike up the rents. But it's bullshit. Not only are they putting many houses beyond the means of hardworking people, but the quality of the service they offer is exactly the same. Complain about repairs that need doing, and you could be waiting for ages.
I have found myself recently having to instigate legal proceedings against an incompetent landlord who allowed me and The Wife, by virtue of his complete laziness, to accrue almost £800 worth of unnecessary heating expenses because he wouldn't get off his arse and get urgent repairs done in time. Draughty windows in winter, an LPG tank hazardously close to the house that needed shifting to the bottom of the garden. A draughty back door that lets an icy cold wind through like a fucking wind-tunnel. Central heating that only comes on when it wants to. All these matters have resulted in my family being cold and uncomfortable, and spending more money than we should have.
The law exists for a reason. And it also allows people like me, in situations like this, to get compensation. Landlords rely too much on people not bothering to defend their legal rights. But people should. They should make the effort, and reinforce the rights of all tenants suffering the same shit elsewhere. If tenants don't stick up for themselves, and landlords get away with treating tenants so disrespectfully, then nothing will ever change in favour of the tenant.
Seize the law. Fight the crap. Don't let these bastards fuck you over. They think they have all the power. But remember: without you the tenant, their house would be an empty shell. It would be sitting there, costing money and earning nothing.
No landlord wants a vacant house.
These landlords may be providing housing. But you're putting money in their pockets, and don't let them forget it. It's about time they gave you the respect you fucking deserve.