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Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newsround #137

Ben on a chair[Ben Reeve Lewis is back to normal ]

Well the tree is down and outside for collection and the living room is back to normal.

Not a glittering Xmas this year, too much to sort out and to be honest it became just another thing on the ‘To-do list’ for Frazzy and I with only the Saturday to sit in a dressing gown and refuse to move from the settee, apart from to change discs on my wonderful ‘Treme’ boxed set (season two on it’s way from as we speak).

Life in the homelessness unit didn’t take long to swing back to normal and just after New Year we were back to the hoards with their suitcases, bin liners, frayed tempers and unrealistic expec tations.

Consequently back came the police and out came our security guys’ body armour as tempers started to flare again. SNAFU as they say.

The housing press too is back to it’s usual round of misery, anticipation of rent rises, rent arrears debt and food-banks.

London Property Prices

Planet Property informs us all this week about new research from the Said Business School of Oxford that explains why London’s house prices are always on the up.  Apparently in times of foreign turmoil the capital is seen as a “Safe Haven” for investment. Professor Ramadorai stated:

“London areas with a one standard deviation higher share of residents originating from a particular country, house prices were nearly half a percent higher in months following trouble in the country’s political situation.”

So there is the thing we need for financial growth, not economic migration or a sound housing policy….just a few handy foreign wars.

Occam’s Razor in action, the simplest hypothesis is always the most useful.  Ramadorai goes on to say:

“The potential to identify future unusual price rises using our method, and the implications for global capital flows suggests that our research could make a useful contribution to policy discussions.”

Jeez don’t tell Boris Johnson that Professor…… He’ll have us invading Singapore so he can sell more units in One the Elephant.

The Wilsons are not unsual

Last week I mentioned Mr and Mrs Wilson of Kent and their decision not to rent to HB tenants anymore. They have been quite the media tarts all week in fact with everyone from the Telegraph to the Morning Star running articles about them but t’would appear that they are far from unusual.

Over on the Shelter Blog Zorana Halpin wrote about the next housing buzz word to follow on from “Generation Rent”, the notion of “The Unrentables”  who she describes as:

“A subset of the 10 million renters in Britain, who find it increasingly hard to find a landlord that will rent a property to them.”

Going on to say:

“Impossibly high rents in some parts of the country mean more and more people in work are needing housing benefit (HB) to meet housing costs, a trend that shows no sign of slowing. Over a third (34%) of those claiming housing benefit in the private rented sector are now working.”

As Zorana accurately points out, the Wilson’s decision is a purely economic one, which is why I don’t blame them but the social implications of this growing popular trend is very worrying when you look at the amount of renting households who are in employment, not Cameron and IDS’s dole scroungers, just people getting crap wages.

Runaway rents

Last week HB Welcome posted a comment on Newsround questioning my assertion that rents were ‘Runaway’ and were actually below inflation. I didn’t respond there because I wanted to mention it this week.

It’s pointless getting into a debate about percentages as nobody seems to agree on the figures and the level of increase isn’t the issue. It is really plain old affordability (Occam’s razor again) as the Shelter article illustrates this and please don’t counter with “Well Shelter would say that wouldn’t they?”.

The Telegraph “Would say” what they say as well, as would The Beano, the issue of the affordability of housing costs is widely accepted as a problem regardless of political persuasions.  Ms Halpin writes:

“At the heart of this dismal phenomenon is an affordability problem. The combination of soaring housing costs, stagnant wages and benefit cuts make it inevitable that more and more ordinary people will struggle to find a decent place to live”.

Succinctly put. Whether or not rent increases are above or below inflation isn’t the point, it is part of a package of F**k-ups that is driving homelessness and misery and offices like the one I work in are the best barometers for that coz we have to pick up the pieces.

Landlord prosecution

Meanwhile, over in council land Haringey have been busy bees haven’t they? Tessa threw a story my way via Twitter about their prosecution of a local landlord who had converted a property without planning permission and didn’t re-convert to the authority’s satisfaction, resulting in a massive £312,000 slap on the legs.

To be honest even I was shocked by the severity of that one, pleased as I would have been had I gotten it myself.

I know landlords far worse than Mr Izzit but what the hell, a result is a result and more than a few rubbish landlords in the borough will be thinking twice now.

But if you think that is extreme think on this Mark Alexander’s Property118 site told us all about the case of a tenant in Ireland who ate his landlord’s heart and Lungs.

Not even Shelter, hardly friends to PRS landlords would advocate that one. Obviously an injunction not good enough then.

Ben on the telly

Finally I urge all my regular readers to Watch BBC 1 at 7:30pm on Monday night. The ‘ Inside Out ‘ programme apparently features me in all my glory, talking about dodgy landlords hotwiring electricity meters and by-passing gas supplies in an attempt to suck more money out of their tenants who pay rent inclusive of bills that they obviously don’t themselves pass on.

I have filmed seven different TV programmes in the past 18 months on landlord tenant issues, including two Panoramas and a Channel 4 Dispatches and ended up on the cutting room floor of all but one of them.

The only common link I can think of is my habitual wearing of Hawaiian shirts, which maybe play havoc with monitors in the editing suite.

This time I am wearing a sober shirt and my only suit jacket that I reserve for court and that seemed to get me in.

I saw a clip of myself at the tail end of this week’s edition as an “and next week” item but I have no idea how much air time I fill up.

I just hope that they don’t show the embarrassing bit of me walking through Catford town centre, trying to pretend the camera wasn’t following me when some local wag said out of the corner of his mouth “Prick” as I trotted past.

Celebrity 0….real life 3.

See ya next week

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5 Responses to Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newsround #137

  1. Rents rise because people raise them. There is very little excuse. The Wilsons raised the rents, because they want more money. Can I have your autograph now, please?

  2. I get your point about affordability for some people.

    My point was that rents haven’t been runaway as you claimed. In fact it’s more like rents have been marking time for the last ten years. Or even (shock, horror) going down in real terms.

    However, I predict this year that will change and we will see some significant increases. For no other reason than supply and demand.

    Unsuprisingly, landlords are in it to make money and if the demand is there, they will increase rents. Because they can.

  3. Thanks HB. Your points are prescient and spot on.

    I need to reference your final sentence:

    “Unsuprisingly, landlords are in it to make money and if the demand is there, they will increase rents. Because they can.”

    I agree with you 100%.

    However there is a wonderful line in Jurassic Park that I always like where Jeff Goldblum’s philosopher confronts Richard’ Attenborough’s enthusiastic scientist, saying “You got so lost in the idea that you could, that you never stepped back and asked whether or not you should”

    Like Jeff Goldblum my issue with rents becoming increasingly unaffordable is not that if landlords can they will, but simply whether or not they should, simply because they can.

    I could drink an entire bottle of Jack Daniels tonight because being a seasoned drinker I can, with limited immediate side effects but it doesnt mean it is good for my health. In fact I might just have a go tonight to prove a point 

    It’s a hard fact that rent arrears are on the increase in both public and private sectors. The housing associations that I train regularly all have financial headaches with collecting former tenants arrears. Even if they find the tenant, if they are on benefits an £8,000 debt is irrecoverable in practical terms.

    You and I know that even if a landlord obtains possession on rent arrears they either write it off or accept a suspended possession order on terms of the rent plus £3.65p a week. Whoopy doo.

    The landlord press for some considerable time has gotten carried away with itself talking about the fact that they can raise rents. The repeated mantra being that “Rents are bouyant”. Fair enough but what is bouyant to one end of the market is a disaster to the other end. You cant have a winner without a loser on the other end

    For some time now mortgage rates have been at a sustained all-time low, while rents have grown exponentially. When finally the mortgage rates rise, and they will eventually, the mortgage lending press will be describing mortgage rates as bouyant, while buy to let landlords start losing their investment properties to Santander and Mortgage Express, because they can no longer raise the rent to meet the increase, having already maxed out the tenants, consequently killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

    The housing benefit cap doesn’t help and is already increasing the queues outside the homelessness units. In mine we have a computer screen on the wall that usually shows at any one time around 10 – 12 people in the queue for advice and assistance. Over the past few months that number has grown. Each time I have glanced up at the screen this week the number has been 20-24 and when you talk to the clients the main reason they are there is unaffordable rents.

    To my mind there is one hell of a hangover coming for landlords.

  4. Ben – the line from Jurassic Park is well used and apposite. But remember, the rents being buoyant point is just not true everywhere. In Glasgow for example, one and two bed flats often rent for the same, or similar prices, due to their their being a lack of one-beds. Other than places like, or areas within: Warwick, Edinburgh, London, there are many places where rents are ‘stable’ – or even falling slightly in real terms. London is another country, and I doubt that supply will ever outstrip demand.



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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