Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newsround #86

[Ben ReeveBen on a chair Lewis goes to Liverpool ...]

I spent last weekend in the Hilton Hotel in Liverpool. Frazzy was attending an annual travel agents gala event there.

Three days of inspirational talks, workshops, networking and entertainment in the evening.

Beatlemania

It looked like a nice city and the people are really friendly but bloody hell, its like a Beatles theme park.

yellow submarineThere is even a yellow submarine in Albert Dock and foreign tourists everywhere having their photo taken outside McCartney’s Hotel or the fake Cavern Club.

Even the Hilton had a glass case in the foyer selling Beatles mugs, scarves etc.

I had planned to go on one of those Beatles tours for a laugh but Liverpool has been so built over in the past 50 years there didn’t seem much left to see. All the itineraries offered were the house where Ringo grew up, the house where Paul grew up, some old church hall where they used to rehearse. Not very inspiring really.

So I bought a book instead (“What it was” by George Pelicanos – the man who wrote my favourite TV series ‘The Wire’) and toured a few pubs for a quiet read but there were guaranteed constant, back to back Beatles and Merseybeat songs and posters on the wall of the fab four, all of which forced me back to the hotel room to do some work without ‘Love me do’ blaring in the background.

Helping housing need

Some judicious surfing brought me to an interesting piece in the Guardian  where various housing insiders aired their views on how the private rented sector can help meet housing need.

The excellent Aki Elahi of DSS Move, Dean Velanni of the National Landlord’s Association and Chris Hancock of Exeter City Council all cited the main barrier to winning landlord’s over is the LHA system of payments going direct to tenants.

Before I was forcibly overdosed on the loveable mop tops I went to the latest meeting of the London Landlord’s Accreditation Scheme in Camden town hall and read the results of a survey carried out among its members, whose main complaint was the same; LHA payments.

LHA direct

In the survey a staggering 95.5% of respondents said they would work with councils to provide accommodation if they got LHA paid directly to them.

In the Guardian’s piece David Lawrenson of Lettings focus expressed a view on one of the problems in the public sector:-

“Calling the government’s bluff: London boroughs in particular are simply carrying on, knowing full well that central government will simply have to come and help when the numbers of homeless on the streets becomes socially intolerable.

This may involve central government cash and/or changing the proposed universal credit rules, or whatever it takes.”

This is perhaps the first thing David has ever said that I don’t agree with. I don’t think councils are playing a game of this kind. Local authorities are by nature conservative, reactionary organisations too busy meeting demand for services to think much ahead, that’s the real problem.

One I am happy to say is being addressed by my own council who have set a team up to put systems in place to deal with upcoming Universal Credit fiasco and creating a new social lettings agency service to help bring private and public together.

Village Green shocker

At Frazzy’s gala conference on Saturday night we were treated to Russell Watson singing land of hope and glory which got everyone fired up and thinking of village greens. The telegraph too was thinking of village greens and the crack of leather on willow when it aired a piece about the scandal of building on that holiest of holy’s, green belt land.

“Swathes of green belt landlord sacrificed” ran the outraged headline, an area the size of the city of Gloucester, it trumpeted. Hang on a bit….wind back the tape there….”An area the size of the city of Gloucester”???? How is that a ‘Swathe’?

I’ve been to Gloucester, it aint big when compared to the whole of the UK. I read somewhere else that it represents 0.3% of all greenbelt land available.

Paul Miner of the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England said:-

“It has to be understood that the Green Belt’s boundaries should only be changed exceptionally and this does not appear to be the case for us.”

Er, a massive housing shortage, the failure of all new build initiatives, a 38% increase in homeless applications, a rise in rough sleepers. Would you not consider these factors to qualify as exceptional? It may not be exceptional for the residents of St Bruno in the Crimplene but it is for people living pretty much everywhere else.

I like a nice field as much as the next man but I can live with 0.3%.

Property Guardians

Many of you may not know but in the past couple of years a new player has come onto the housing block. The notion of ‘Property Guardians’.  Companies have been springing up looking to block-manage buildings and estates due for demolition and renting them out to people in need of a home at a rock bottom price.

This stops squatters and general erosion of areas by keeping things in circulation.

What’s wrong with that when we are in dire housing need? Nothing at all and a good idea but they don’t come without a few major caveats for the occupiers, who are by and large expected to take the properties on with few rights or protections.

Over at Nearly Legal towers they have been picking up on a few of the legal anomalies that are getting thrown into the fray.

Property Guardian companies issue licence agreements to the occupiers and conduct business on that basis. Giving 2 week’s notice to vacate at the required time, but as the article points out unless the occupiers are excluded licensees they will be covered by the Protection from Eviction act 1977, which would require 4 weeks notice and a possession order in order to be legal.

To be an excluded licensee the occupier would need a resident landlord. Not only are the landlords of property guardians not resident, they could not be, as a company cannot be a resident landlord anyway.

So are these companies breaking the law?

Writing in the comments below the article Simon helpfully points out that this phenomenon started in the Netherlands, where they are called “Anti-squat agencies”. The same legal concerns have been raised there:-

“By becoming guardians, tenants find themselves in a position where they have almost no rights. For instance, the special type of ‘’licence agreement’’ stipulated can be ended without any reason at two weeks notice, the domestic peace is not respected, people may not throw parties and may not talk to the press without prior permission. More than 30 rules violate the European Convention of Human Rights.”

On the surface of it property guardians make sense, providing homes for people that need them. Back when we actually had social housing, similar properties were let out under what was loosely termed ‘Less Desirable’ properties. 20th floor flats rejected by homeless applicants or properties on the less salubrious, family unfriendly estates etc. The thing is they were still accorded full rights and given protection under law.

Nobody seems to have challenged breaches by property guardian companies so far but I for one will be keeping my eye out.

I’ve heard that they are also forced to listen to endless Beatles songs back to back. In that, they have my sympathy.

Ben Reeve Lewis

Yellow submarine picture

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About the post author:

Ben Reeve-Lewis

Ben is an enforcement officer for a London Local Authority, a housing law trainer, an author on housing law who writes for the Guardian & occasionally pops up wittering away on TV. He also runs Easy Law Training with Tessa & Graeme. Occasionally he sleeps. Find him on Google, and Journalisted. Any opinions expressed are Ben's personal views & don't reflect those of any organisations he may refer to.



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