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Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newsround #91

[Ben ReeveBen on a chair Lewis has forgotten to write his column…]

It’s been a busy week.

Regular readers will know that Tessa, Graeme and I have formed Easy Law Training to educate the rental sector.

The PRS which is Tessa’s main remit and public sector housing workers, which is my responsibility.

In the last week I’ve hacked down the M3 to Dorset twice to train homelessness officers, I’m off to Bristol on Tuesday and Merthyr Tydfil the week after, with Carmarthen and Swindon yet to come.

We’ve also expanded Frontliner , our free e-newsletter for social housing staff by adding ‘Talking Shop’ a Q&A section like Landlord Law Blog Clinic but exclusively for Front line housing workers.

I desperately needed a break so took today off from chasing landlords to have a good lie in. The alarm went, Frazzy dragged her grumbling body out of bed while I turned over with a smug smile for another couple of hours sleep, then sat up with a scream as I realised with horror, that in all the madness of the week I hadn’t written this week’s newsround.

So I sit here at the keyboard at 6.45am in my dressing gown guzzling tea and desperately gathering my thoughts.

What about the news then?

So what news of the week? Horsemeat in burgers is still much talked about on the radio in the background, however it isn’t housing.

But lateness being uppermost in my mind I noticed that Ed Milliband this week finally announced some plans for housing.

Alison Seabeck signally failed to get out of the horse box on it and Jack Dromey hasn’t exactly led by 10 lengths in the 2.30 at Kempton Park when it comes to plans for the housing crisis but Mr Ed has stepped in with an announcement.

Milliband speaks

Ed MillibandIn a speech to the Fabian Society, reported in Inside Housing  he announced that Labour have plans to counter Cameron’s Big Society concept with his ‘One Nation’ philosophy, part of which is a plan to increase the security of private tenants in this green and pleasant, sceptred wot-not by increasing the length of fixed term tenancies.

He said:-

“Too many families face the doubt of a two-month notice period before being evicted. Imagine being a parent with kids settled in a local school and your family settled in your home for two, three, four years, facing that sort of uncertainty”

Rogue landlords and letting agents have also come into his big plan. About which he said:-

“Most people who rent have responsible landlords and rental agencies. But there are too many rogue landlords and agencies either providing accommodation which is unfit or ripping off their tenants.”

Maybe Mr Ed talked of firmer plans to deal with these ‘Rogues’ elsewhere, it wasn’t mentioned in the article I read but PLEEEEEASE let it be something other than urging councils to take more enforcement action.

That tired old argument trotted out by Shapps, Prisk, Cameron and even Shelter.

Acts carried out by the people grouped together under that terminally vague umbrella ‘Rogue landlords’ vary from minor acts committed in ignorance of the law to all out assaults.

Treating every single complaint as a full on criminal action with the concomitant criminal prosecution is plain stupid. There isn’t a council in the country that has enough staff or resources left to deal with the scale of the problem in that way.

There are better ways to skin a horse. Us TROs know what they are but nobody seems interested in listening. So in the meantime Tessa and I will quietly get on with educating the rental sector, a key component in improving standards.

Community land trusts

I read a thought provoking article on Newstart Magazine  about a community based solution to a small part of their housing crisis which could provide a blue-print that I hope Mr Ed takes notice of as an alternative to the tired argument above.

The residents of Mile End in East London have cottoned on to the idea of Community Land Trusts. A scheme I was previously unaware of. Apparently they have been quite popular and effective in rural communities for some time but Mile End is the first urban version.

The land, which in this case is a converted hospital, is to be owned in perpetuity by a community foundation. 10% of the properties will be available for sale at a quarter of the market value, the overall values increasing with the rate of inflation only, not run away market forces.

Kate McTirenan who wrote the article says:-

“Through the community land trust model, life will be breathed into the site, with community activities set up to encourage enterprise and training while they wait for the homes to materialise.

The East London Community Land Trust will run affordable workspace, artists’ studios, markets, cafes and educational, enterprise and social opportunities for local people throughout 2013.

The gardeners from the cemetery are waiting to get their hoes to work on the common courtyards and the people from the neighbouring estates made Xmas decorations to adorn the front of the building.

St Clement’s hospital will go from being an abandoned mental asylum to the only sane development in London – one that recognises and encourages the community to do, rather than be done to”

You see? That’s the kind of thinking we need. Not these tired, back and forth arguments about home-ownership v. renting. Private rental v. social housing. There is a wealth of other models out there, through land trusts like this to self-builds and cooperatives.

Listen to Einstein

Einstein said you can’t solve a problem with the same kind of thinking that created it. Keep an eye on Mile End and future schemes that are influenced by them.

A point that needs to be picked up Westminster council who announced this week that they are doing their bit to alleviate the housing shortage by knocking down an old cop-shop and building 65 new homes to be let as social tenancies at an ‘Affordable rent’.  Stop laughing at the back.

I went on Right Move and looked at 2 bedroomed private rental properties in the area, which top out sometimes at several thousand pounds a week. The lowest I found was £600 a week, which is £2,600 a month. 83% of that, which is the affordable rent idea, is £2,158 a month.

I’ll bet those mum’s and dads desperately looking for a home out of the unregulated madness of the PRS can’t wait to get in there, I mean, how affordable is that? It’s a snip, I’m sure you will agree.


Well I got there. 8am and I finished. Frazzy hasn’t even left for work yet.

A gallop through this week’s news and I even managed to get a few horse related comments in there too. Which reminds me of a joke my Mate the excellent photographer Phil Weedon told me yesterday.

“I’m really annoyed. I just bought some beef burgers from Tesco. I put them in the fridge…..and they’re off!!!”

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3 Responses to Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newsround #91

  1. I also hate the term rogue landlord. It says nothing of the low level misery of renting caused by the ability to give notice on a whim. I am also intrigued as to why everyone is so unwilling to regulate those vampires of the PRS: letting agents.

  2. What I dislike about the term, and I have mentioned this to Shelter, is the idea that all landlord behaviour that isnt strictly on the ball should put them in the same camp as some psycho wielding a baseball bat. As a working TRO I refuse to take criminal action against a landlord who acts rashly or out of ignorance. there arent enough hours in the day and I feel this whole stance actually gets in the way of improving the PRS.

    I dont agree about the unwillingness to regulate agents. I agree it has been the case but everywhere there are cracks in the wall and even organisations like ARLA are calling for regulation of agents because of the bad ones getting the good ones a rotten name. I think we could hear plans on this front at any time, even from the condems. My prediction for 2013 if you like

  3. ARLA has been calling for regulation of agents for a long time. I think all good agents (and there are a lot of them) want this, as it protects them from the slur which the bad agents cast on the repuation of all of them.

    Which is very unfair on those agents who are genuinely doing a good job.



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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