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Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newsround #123

Ben on a chair[Ben Reeve Lewis shares a platform with the pros ]

Last night I attended the inaugural meeting of the Islington Private Tenants Group in the rather grand council chamber of Islington Town Hall.

How the pros do it

Sharing a Q&A panel with Jeremy Corbyn MP I had the opportunity to see first hand how the pros do it.

He stood rather grandly with his right hand on the pommel of a seat and held his glasses in his left hand whilst staring into the middle distance looking wistful and statesman-like.

Unlike me he doesn’t forget where he is at, trip over his words or make inappropriate jokes about breasts that makes people glance at the floor in embarrassment.

What surprised me was that everyone kept digging at the Labour party’s lack of support of tenants. It took me 10 minutes to realise that he is a Labour MP. I thought he was a Lib Dem. Shows you how much interest I have in party politics.

Anyway good luck to Laurie and Eleanor, it was a great start. If you fancy getting in touch here’s their website

Rent control is back

Jeremy Corbyn is launching a private members bill next month where rent control……yes I’ll say that again “RENT CONTROL” is firmly at the top of the list.

At the meeting we discussed this and the idea that whenever the matter is raised landlords instinctively say it will drive out investment but one quiet elderly fella calmly put his hand up and said that when he was young rents were capped at 20% of average income.

I asked him if there was a shortage of properties and he shook his head and replied “You could move from one property to another in a day”.

Will Jeremy’s bill end up on the books? Hang on………..just looking out of the window………… that a pig I see up in the sky there?

Transparency in sight

But at least an end is in sight for the transparency of letting agent fees. Money saving expert  informed us this week that following a ruling by the ASA earlier this year by the 1st of November letting agents must start making clear their non-optional or additional fees.

The example they provide is:-

“A fixed admin fee of £150 per tenant should be displayed in ads as “£1500pcm + £150 admin fee per tenant” or similar.”

Going on to add:-

“If non-optional fees can’t be calculated in advance – because they depend on individual circumstances, for example – then ads must clearly state the nature of these and how they will be calculated.”

All of this will come as a great shock to several letting agents on my patch who, from the complaints I get, learn their fee pricing skills at evening classes for creative writing.

One complainant told me that he was asked to give only £100 to secure a property and then received an apologetic phone call telling him the landlord had pulled out and to go and collect his money. When he got there they deducted £60 as an admin fee.

Wholly questionable on it’s own but when you add that to the 10 or so other complaints I’ve received about this letting agent in the past few months it is becoming most certainly criminal.

Imagine doing 10 or 20 of those a month? Nice little earner as Arfur Daley used to say.

Why we move house

Best article of the week came courtesy of the excellent Planet Property  reporting on a survey by removal company Armishaws on why we move house. Attractively illustrated for once instead of just dry pie charts and graphs, although they have them too.

  • 15% of us do it because we want a better home
  • 11% want cheaper
  • 9% because of a new job or transfer
  • 5% got married
  • 5% want to own their own home
  • 5% to be closer to work
  • 5% want a better neighbourhood with less crime
  • 2% for health reasons
  • 32% other unspecified reasons

We also learn that the average Brit moves house 8 times in a lifetime.

This came as a surprise to me because I’m currently installed in my 38th home since birth. Makes you wonder why I bother. I might as well buy a removal van and just live in that. I obviously spend most of my time in one anyway, the result of parents with itchy feet who dragged me to Australia, different parts of London and the North East, which set up a pattern for both me and my sister for wanderlust.

A trait evidently set to continue as Frazzles is also travel mad and is dropping heavy hints that she will one day like to retire to her family home in Barbados with milk-bottle-white-guy-who-doesn’t-do-heat-very-well in tow.

Yay! HMO Landlady is back!

And I’m not the only one to be affected by moving. The excellent HMO Landlady is back in the saddle and on excellent form reporting on 5 of her HMO tenants who have handed in their notice.

She rather wonderfully and pragmatically says:-

“I had a lovely question from someone asking what software I used to keep track of rents. I had to reply that I use the simple record keeping of “if it ain’t there, they ain’t paid”

And made me choke on my Kit Kat this morning with the following tale:-

“The one I shall miss the most is Greg. His girlfriend is pregnant which means he’ll have three different children by three different women.

The latest one has been physically and mentally abusing him, daring him to hit back so she can report him (again) to the police for domestic abuse – all because he refuses to move in with her. In our phone call today he’s decided to relocate with his job and get a vasectomy. To be honest, he’s so good looking I’d probably let him make ME pregnant!”

Haha. Welcome back Serena.

Our poor record on housing & human rights

Finally the big news of the week is the UN report on Britains housing situation from a human rights perspective.

Inside Housing talk of an interview with Raquel Rolnik of the UN who is described as a “Rapporteur” whatever the hell that is.

She told the Guardian:-

“That Britain’s record on housing was getting worse from a human rights perspective.”

Grant ShappsA rant from  Shapps (remember him?)

On the BBC Grant Shapps has gone mental, criticising Rachel for overuse of the word bedroom tax and generally telling her to butt out.  [Yay!  I can use my Shapps pic again!  Ed]

Someone pissing in your swimming pool Grant? My heart bleeds. You may insist on it being called the “Spare room subsidy” but the electorate…remember those guys who pay your wages??? Call it ‘Bedroom tax’.

In his smiley faced, reasonable, ordinary guy BBC rant  he lays into the ‘Rapporteuer,’ slagging off Ms Rolnik’s home country (Brazil’s) record on poor housing in an attempt to divert attention from the fact that the UK may well have breached human rights with the ‘spare room subsidy’.

Dear Mr Pot….yours sincerely, Mr Kettle.

Its called the Bedroom Tax

Government keep bigging up figures that talk about the amount of money being saved and the larger properties being freed-up by Bedroom tax…..Yes “BEDROOM TAX” mate, completely ignoring the undisputed statistics that social landlords simply don’t have the smaller properties to downsize people to, thus increasing repossessions and debt,

With all this UN involvement does this mean we will we see UN peacekeepers on our streets? Light blue helmets attending evictions, trying to dissuade bailiffs? Teams searching the housing estates of Glasgow looking for WMDs?

Maybe heavily armed American SEALS will try to track down Ian Duncan-Smith as he goes on the run, eventually to be dragged from a hole in the ground 9 months later with a long flowing beard and made to account for his crimes against humanity.

You would have to leave the safety catch off wouldn’t you?………just for a split second……ooops, sorry guys, was that me?…..anyone got some paper towels?????

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9 Responses to Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newsround #123

  1. The question that should be asked of Jeremy Corbyn is why is he putting forward a bill that has no hope of success?

    If he really gave a damn, he would put forward a bill to improve tenants’ rights that would be acceptable to the majority of right thinking people.

    Instead, he has wasted the opportunity with looney left posturing.

    Good for Jeremy’s career, not so good for improving things for Islington tenants.

  2. Yeah I thought that was weird myself in the current climate.

    I do think rent control is becoming increasingly pressing in London but completely unrealisable at the moment and for the near future.

    What I think he is counting on is the idea that government and the GLA in London dont want to introduce anything that will alienate the PRS landlord community who are a well organised and vocal lobbying power. Tenants on the other hand have no such voice or sense of cohesion but if they ever get it together they will obviously outnumber the landlord community by several to one and then politicians will start listening to them.

    Groups like Islington, Hackney, Lewisham etc are getting organised and connecting up with each other and forming London-wide groups who are media savvy in ways that tenants rights groups never were before.

    if they can get together in the same way that organisations like the NLA do, with their 3 floors on the banks of the Thames and freephone advice hotlines then politicians may well start looking more favourably on calls for rent control.

    Nothing is fixed and generally all ideas that end up being commonly accepted started out as radical heresies.

    Who would ever have thought that Ghandi and his crew would have forced the British to withdraw from India after 200 years of running a very lucrative empire? or South Africa overturning apartheid?

  3. Crikey Ben, did they brainwash you with rose-tinted blinkers at that meeting?

    In reverse order;
    Implying Jeremy Corbyn is in any way a Mandela or Ghandi type figure is laughable to people outside of the trendy left Islington bubble.

    Tenants rights groups? You forgot to mention the multi-million, government subsidised, business called Shelter-amongst others.

    Landlords are about as organised as a herd of cats. The membership of the NLA is tiny, if they are supposedly a pressure group, they have failed completely. If they had any balls (then just to highlight a few recent issues), they would have stomped on the deposits farce, council tax nil exemption and blanket licensing.

    Finally, rent controls. Ignoring the facts that there is a country outside of London where there isn’t a problem, that it was a complete miserable failure last time and that it is never going to happen anyway. But lets consider if it did;

    The top end would find a way round it.

    The slum end would have a boom industry in Rachmans.

    The majority of the middle ground would play the game. It would discourage the accidentals and the get rich quick merchants. Good for established landlords who would have their pick of quality tenants-

    Missed a credit card payment? Next!

    CCJ? Do me a favour.

    Single parent with a pet?

    Benefits? Ha!Ha!Ha!

    Different ethnicity?Sorry mate I can’t understand a word you’re saying.

    Hard looking skinhead with a dodgy beard that knows his rights?? -What do you think?

    At least the Hooray Henrietas of Islington would be happy.

  4. “Hard looking skinhead with a dodgy beard that knows his rights??”…… you mean me? haha

    As with anything you can argue it two ways and today I have neither the time nor the inclination but I will just correct one thing the shelter/tenants rights group comment.

    What I mean by tenants rights groups is local groups of actual tenants helping each other out. Whereas Shelter isnt a tenants group its a political lobbying organisation that does training and policy work.

  5. Right, Saturday chores are done; let’s hunker down on the nub of this problem.

    Rent control throws up a wide variety of issues, at a political, operational and fiscal level. There are arguments for and against, dependant on anyone’s position, whether you are a tenant or a landlord, a socialist or a capitalist, a tory or a Labour supporter.

    There are countries where rent control works in a perfectly acceptable manner and a history in the UK where it threw up more problems that it solved. None of this is relevant when applied to the basics of what is going on.

    So let’s just focus on one, single problem in practice. HBW despite your dismissal of London I am going to cite the situation in the capital as this is where it has the most devastating effects. I totally get that London is a bubble and it isn’t representative of the UK as a whole but 12 million people live here, so we have a valid argument as the biggest single conurbation in the UK.

    It is increasingly the case that London renters cannot afford the rent levels here and it isn’t a simplistic “Market/IDS/Tebbit logic” case of “Pay it or move”. Debt is not good for the economy and relocation of families blights the lives of communities that we all live in….landlords too.

    The housing benefit cap was introduced last month in my borough. Many families suddenly have their housing benefit reduced by £250 per week. They try to move but landlords, quite understandably, won’t rent to them. Who can take a hit like that? If I was a landlord I wouldn’t.

    But then where do these people go? To the homelessness unit, that’s where. We place them in expensive temporary accommodation because we have nowhere else because London PRS rents are too high to be sustainable to people on benefits and this has a knock on effect to council tax payers in the borough and that includes landlords too.

    A couple of weeks ago the homelessness unit where I am based, which deals with 100-150 people a day had to close the front doors because there were too many people in reception for health and safety conditions. Our security guys had to let one-out-one in, like a nightclub…..I have not seen that in my 23 years.

    Forget the economics, the theories and the politics and what would happen if rent control were to be brought in and concentrate on what is really happening for people in London.

    Homelessness is going through the roof.

    Repossessions based on rent arrears claims are at an all-time high, which helps neither tenants nor landlords.

    Families are being dispersed.

    50% of the PRS community moves home within two years which undermines communities and coherence of education for children

    And all of this is driven by PRS rent levels that are off the scale as landlords seek to make as much money as possible in a volatile and expansionist market.

    Landlords in London are charging the rents that they are, simply because they can, making hay while the sun shines…..there is no economic thought behind it, no consideration of sustainability of the market or even basic human morality.

    Whenever rent control is mentioned landlords go into defence mode and say “Well move if you don’t like it”.

    Against this background tenants’ rights groups are forming, with the intention of becoming a vocal lobby.

    For every 10 landlords there will be 50 tenants. If this new breed of tenants’ rights groups can organise, as they intend to, they will outnumber landlords significantly and politicians will swing from an aversion of an interventionist approach to one of support for tenants’ rights.

    Jeremy Corbyn may in effect be pissing in the wind at the moment but this may not be the case in 2 year’s time if the various tenants rights groups find their feet.

    That was the point of my reference to Ghandi and Mandela, not to compare Corbyn to them, but to make the point that all ideas are at some point radical, that end up being convention

  6. Right, Saturday night and I’m on my way out.

    I have neither the time nor the inclination at the moment but I will just correct one thing on the London comment.

    The reason I raised the London issue is because Corbyn’s proposed bill would also affect people from Plymouth to Hull to Liverpool and all points erratically located in between.

    It is a London centric problem that he intends hoisting on the whole of the country. He’s not pissing in the wind, he is pissing on everyone else to further his political career.

    You can see through Shapps, why can’t you see through Corbyn?

  7. Haha Have a good night HBW, to be continued.

    For what it’s worth I agree with you on the bill. It is a London problem period.

    I would like the GLA and Westminster to accept that London problems, effects and solutions are a unique situation and need a localised approach

  8. Private Member’s Bills are used by MPs to get a debate on an issue that otherwise will not be raised by Front Benches. Sometimes the issues do get support or at least consideration by either party for future policy; but they are rarely used by an MP to further their career as the issues they raise can be controversial and are not always popular with party leaders. Corbyn is not a Shadow Cabinet favourite.

    Ben and HBW are wrong to say that problems that the Bill may address are London centric. Whilst London has been more adversely affected by rising rents and beds in sheds; the provinces (here in the North East for example)also needs increased controls on rents and other protections.

    Research I carried out four years ago on local market rents showed that they had risen at a higher rate than inflation and were continuing to rise. They rose in relation to the reach the LHA limits and very few enabled tenants to keep the balance. My former employer did not like the result because it went counter to his view that they were working with landlords to keep rents down.

    A national approach is required although particular provisions may be needed for London. To have a localised solution does not get the problems adeqautly dealt with and in fairness to landlords, may cause them confusion and increased administration when they may have portfolios that cross Council borders that they have to understand and then implement different standards in neighbouring streets or even within a street.

    What would be useful is to have staff resources to periodically inspect rented property to ensure that standards are complied with, and that should include interviewing tenants about things that may not be apparent from a visual inspection. The private market has expanded considerably in the last 25 years but staffing has not been able to catch up. However it must be possible to do follow up inspections otherwise the original inspection may have been worthless.

    Enforcement may also be needed to go in tandem with standard checking. However in the present finanacial situation chnage looks unlikely, but lets also wait for the fall out from potential Bedroom Tax evictions and tenants being forced into the more expensive private sector.

    A landlords association rep on local radio today said that a large number of landlords are reluctant landlords having been unable to sell a property; or inherited or otherwise; having sufficient staff resource to ensure standards is likely in a lot of cases not to require very much follow up enforcement, that leaves time to deal with many of the crisis situations that I have been required to intervene in and resolve.

  9. Colin I stand corrected on the regional issue. The effects of high rents and benefit caps in the capital have been devastating and are driving homelessness through the roof but whenever I have visited other cities (usually as a trainer) I cant help but look in local estate agent’s windows and the gap between PRS rents and HB dont look too great. If the opposite is the case in the North East then I take that on board entirely. There are obviously areas apart from London where this nonsense is impacting, which makes my imperative all the more pressing.

    That there are possible down-sides to rent control I dont doubt in the slightest, but when balanced against the increased numbers of homeless families I see coming though our doors, the debts accrued by small buy to let landlords with one property who cant pay their mortgages because of the benefit cap, the pros seem to outweigh the cons.

    For me what is of more pressing concerns that any adverse effects on the property investment market is the increase in personal debt, the increase in repossessions for rent arrears and the concomitant rise in homelessness cases. This has to stop and if rent control is the medium through which it is achieved then so be it.

    If some landlords decide that there isnt enough profit in them to stay in the game then that is their decision. The property wont go away. A house in Camden wont suddenly move to Worcester, in some form or another it will still be available to local residents. in the current climate I cant see it sitting vacant.

    I have fought long about this because I am not anti landlord and I try to see a way forward that addresses the needs of all parties but in an environment where more people are being run into debt because of the benefit cap, more landlords with those tenants are unable to meet their buy to let mortgage deals and the homelessness unit, as I mention above are having to close their doors because there are too many people in reception for health and safety, then I’m sorry, but economic arguments about disincentivisation run a poor second on my list of concerns.



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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Tessa is an English lawyer specialising in residential landlord and tenant law.

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