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Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newsround #128

Ben on a chair[Ben Reeve Lewis is appalled at reports of racial discrimination]

I work in what must be one of the most politically incorrect offices I think may be in existence.

Out of the 40 or so souls who inhabit the concrete bunker that I work in, are Sikhs, Nigerian Christians, Moslems, Rastafarians, Kenyans, Pakistanis, assorted whites, Zimbabweans, and on and on.

We are daily thrust into the maelstrom of homelessness work, where we get threatened and spat at with such alarming regularity that we hardly even notice it anymore, let alone complain.

This builds a camaraderie independent of any racial or religious lines.

I love my posse. Nobody is a shy retiring violet, none take offence at various slurs on their nationality or religion, in fact jokes come thick and fast.

I am regularly referred to affectionately as “White boy” or, by the Muslim contingent, “The K’faar” and give back as good as I get. We are all comfortable with one another.

The love of my life, the very wonderful Frazzy Reeve-Lewis is herself a West Indian by way of Deptford. We share our home and bed, Ebony and Ivory/salt and pepper style; with nary a thought for the differences between us (I’ve learnt that nagging is possible in any language).

This is the culture I grew up in, love and feel at home in. Modern London, where everyone from all over the world mixes cheek by jowl and mixes their families up.

No Blacks No Dogs No IrishRacial discrimination exposed on TV

Which is why I was stunned to see on Monday night a documentary slot on BBC1’s “Inside Out” London programme, an expose of letting agents in North west London who routinely discriminate against black tenants.

The story was also written up on the BBC website.  I’m going to name these peole. The BBC have already done it so why not?  “A-Z Property” services of Dollis Hill.

What astonished me just as much as this 1970s style prejudice, is the comment by a spokesperson from Maida Vale Properties, Nicola Humphries who quite rightly said:-

“There are some agents who will say anything and do anything to close a deal. We need to change the culture”

But then rather astonishingly went on to say:-

“But like any sales business it’s a cut throat world and maintaining integrity is not easy.”

Oh okay so the fact that it’s tough out there makes falling into racial discrimination alright when it comes down to the pound in your pocket does it?

Back to the days of ‘No blacks, no dogs no Irish’ that gave rise to Rachman then.

Extraordinarily the staff at A-Z seem exclusively Asian themselves, so you would have expected them to be a bit more sensitive to the kind of discrimination that their parents were subjected to on arrival in the UK when whites took to the streets in protest at the influx of Ugandan Asians “Taking our jobs”.

Plus ca change and all that.

Damned foreigners

And staying on the subject of “Damned foreigners” David Smith writing on Nearly Legal this week gave us a potted version of this weird nonsense of landlords vetting tenant’s immigration status  but is a rather more accurate legal imperative as opposed to a populist misconception, which is a must read for those of you alarmed by the Daily Mail.

However the nub of the matter is hardly much different.  David makes this comment of the new bill:-

“It makes it fiendishly complex and self-referential.”

On a deeper level he helpfully points out that:-

“Somewhat counter intuitively this operates by defining a “residential tenancy agreement” as any agreement for occupation (including sub-tenancies and licenses)

Leading us neatly to the fact that at long last, whatever last minute backpedalling and general shenanigans were going on in wood panelled walls somewhere off Whitehall, sub-tenancies in social housing properties have finally become a criminal offence

A new criminal offence

As reported in Inside Housing, this piece of legislation that all us lot on the frontline have been anticipating for ages has finally come into force.

We kept getting false start after false start, until even those of us who keep abreast of this stuff didn’t know whether we were coming or going and couldn’t find anything online that would help us out.

Interestingly the G15 housing associations (London’s biggest, London and Quadrant, Metropolitan etc.) have offered a two month amnesty to offenders to hand their keys back to avoid prosecution.

My estimation? …..well what are the words?…………

Have you ever read the seminal book on journalists in the Vietnam war, “Despatches” by Michael Herr? He mentions talking to a LURP (Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol) soldier about being a journalist in the jungle and the LURP said “Tits on a bull”. That phrase pretty much sums up the intentions for an amnesty.

Are you seriously expecting queues of anxious, accidental sub-letters standing outside the doors at 9am on Monday morning, ‘Fessing up’ to past misdemeanours? Get over yourselves. Subletting of social housing is a hardnosed, black market enterprise.

Raking in the money …

I can remember back in what? 1995? Talking to a tenant who had paid £8,000 to buy the keys off of a person who wasn’t even the original tenant themselves. What are those keys worth in 2013?

A real world heads up for ya.

A couple of weeks back a landlord came to me with a quandary. He had let his 3 bed, Deptford flat @ £1,600 per month to two guys. They have been there 2 years and never missed a penny in rent, so he doesn’t have a problem.

Total received? £38,400 and very nice too.

He decided to visit the property for a genial chat and catch up with his model tenants, only to find 11 other people living there. I went with him on a return visit for a chat and ascertained that each sub-tenant paid £350 per month to the landlord’s official tenants, giving a grand total income to them of £92,400

Deduct his lawful rent payments and his tenants had made, from the sub tenancy £54,400 in two years.

In his case this was a private tenancy, so it isn’t unlawful even now.  He got his rent so what is the problem?

Legally very little. His tenants have broken the terms of their tenancy agreement by sub-letting but they aren’t in rent arrears so the landlord hasn’t lost out.

They didn’t even try to hide it. They aren’t underground people, in fact they have a high street office in south east London and clearly don’t have a moral problem with cramming 11 people into a 3 bed flat, which the true landlord wouldn’t consider doing.

Rent to Rent

Imagine they have just 4 properties operating this way? That’s £216,000 profit in two years without even breaking the law, just the terms of their tenancy agreement and the landlord isn’t even out of pocket in terms of the contract he has with his tenants.

This is a new phenomenon called “Rent to Rent” or predictably “R2R”, covered on Mark Alexander’s Property 118.  Sub-letting is big business.

The darker implications of the Immigration Bill

On Wednesday I had my own piece on the Guardian Housing Network  about the darker implications of unscrupulous landlords exploiting their lack of morality in capitalising on the Immigration Bill and the predicted response of landlords to the threat of being fined for letting to tenants who don’t have “R2R”

Who picks up the slack? Look at the possible income streams available and tell me that these plans won’t open up a new market.

Any fans of “The Wire” out there? Remember detective Lester Freemon saying of the street drug dealers they are trying to put away..“To get to the bottom of this, follow the money”

See ya next week.

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3 Responses to Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newsround #128

  1. Just out of curiosity, what does K’faar mean? Is it a term of endearment or abuse?

    Also, the three-bed flat you refer to which now accommodates 11 tenants – this is presumably now an HMO – so what happens next??

    And do explain – is it a very large flat? Do they sleep in bunks? Where do they keep their clothes? (I’m fascinated – though not fascinated enough to start cramming extra people into my properties.)

    I mean, how can you decently accommodate 11 people in a three bed place?

  2. A K’faar is a muslim insult for a heathen or unbeliever. It’s usually thrown at me by my mate Noor, who when he arrives late always claims to have just got back from his flying lesson haha.

    It is an HMO but not a mandatory licenced one as it isnt 3 floors and my council dont do selective or additional licensing. In Newham it would be a problem.

    No bunks. 3 double beds and a couple of mattresses on floors. Some of the guys worked nights so they sleep in shifts, which is commonly how it is done.

    And you are right Smithy, you cant “Decently accommodate” 11 people in a 3 bed flat but their landlords (the landlord’s tenants) care only for the money.

    That is my point about my Guardian article, that there will always be a group out there prepared to do things like that to people who have little choice.

    It has to be said that for some, not all, immigrants they come from overcrowded properties anyway and some merely dont mind, planning to make some money to send home and then return home themselves in the future. Its a temporary expedient but this isnt always the case. Most come from desperately poor backgrounds and are here because they want something better for themselves, just like the rest of humanity. They have few choices and can easily be bullied, trafficked and pushed around.

  3. Ben
    Even if there is not a selective or additional licensing system, if my memory serves me correctly there are the Management Regulations under HA 2004 that apply generally to all HMOs (not just 3 stories/5 persons)that can be used in relation to HHSRS for this situation.

    It seems likely that the landlord and in this case, that is possibly the head tenant does not have satisfactory system of management in place for control of the premises. As such it could be in breach. If the head tenant does not live there then it ceases to be an AST (section 1 1988 Act



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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