Today saw the property news, (invariably sequestered somewhere between the coffee break puzzles and the adverts for walk-in baths) jockeying for position with the ‘real’ news in the pages of the paper with single numbers. It even made the headlines on the BBC. For once, it was not about the heinous breed known as estate agents, but the even more odious sub-class known as landlords. The Local Government Association (LGA)-that will be a bunch of ‘I don’t make the rules, I’m just doing my job in implementing them’ career civil servants- announced that “rogue landlords” must face tougher punishments, including jail sentences. Hear hear we say. May I state for the record, that at Cheshire & Co we are unreservedly in agreement that those individuals to whom the term, “rogue” could be applied-and I am not meaning in a Lovejoy/Del Trotter/Arthur Daley manner-should be held to account for their behaviour through the use of the law. There are however, two sides to every story and dependent on where one finds oneself sitting the ‘other side’ can take on a very different hue. Just as Mr Corbyn is discovering; it is easy to be a politician of protest when espousing one’s beliefs from the relative obscurity of the backbenches or some Trotskyite convention held in the bar of a student union, but it becomes a little more challenging and perspicacity is dulled by actually being in charge of those people who one used to protest against, (and voted against over 500 times) and having one’s beliefs and ‘principles’ analysed by the nation who now know exactly who you are.
Anyway, the LGS have highlighted some horrendous cases where families have been forced to live in squalor for up to 12 months. The landlord should be accountable, no question. What I do query though, is what were the Local Authority and specifically, Environmental Health doing throughout the course of a calendar year? Should their actions-and seeming lack of-not be examined?
On BBC Radio 5 Live, a tenant called Sally was interviewed and said that she had been on the receiving end of poor treatment from landlords, waiting a year for urgent repairs to be carried out. There is of course the issue of what is deemed to be ‘urgent’; I ‘urgently’ want the Strictly Come Prancing Ladies to come and give a Chesh Special Performance, but urgent should perhaps be omitted, leaving just, ‘I want’. Life-enhancing as it may be, its not happening could not be deemed life-threatening or ruinous to my health. A faulty boiler, mould growing across half the ceiling and a circuit board that when one switches on a light offers a 1 in 3 chance of getting a free perm would be deemed in need of urgent attention. Three decades of being involved in the rental of property has taught me that landlords have no interest in treating tenants badly; it is false economy. If you have a good tenant, then what is the point of treating them in a sub-standard manner. Look after them and they in turn will keep on looking after your property.
What I have yet to read or hear being discussed is the thorny issue of ‘rogue tenants’ and the protection afforded to the landlord. In the new spirit of politics and in a bid to not be overly theatrical (moi?), I thought that I would address the matter in true Corbyn style. I have a question from Sue; she wants to know, ‘Why is my landlord throwing me out?’
Well Sue, if you are still in contract, your landlord cannot legally throw you out; unless he has of course served you with a Section 8 Notice having convinced a judge that you are in breach of your tenancy agreement. If your contract has ended at the time stated in the initial AST that you signed all those months ago and you have not bothered in the intervening 6 months to find somewhere else to live, why is it your landlord’s fault and what do you expect anyone-other than yourself-to do about it? Sue did not come back to me on that one.
I have another letter from John, who wants to know why his letting agent wants to come and inspect his house on a regular basis. Well John, first things first; a professional agent needs to ensure that the property that is your home, but not your house-as you don’t own it-is in good condition. This serves two purposes: to ensure that you are not in breach of your contract-the blacked out windows, empty compost bags in the neighbours’ recycling bins and the furnace-like heat that is enough to heat the bath water three doors down-are a bit of a give away. This protects the landlord. Inspections are also in place to protect you, the tenant. Regular checks afford an opportunity to point out any issues that may need remedial work or attention, thus preventing them becoming a hazard requiring urgent attention.
My final letter comes from Kylie-Anne. She writes, ‘I signed my AST in my name and since moving-in, my 3 sisters and their 12 kids have all come to live with me. Why has my agent got the hump, saying it is illegal?’ Now K-A, I know that times are difficult and it is all the fault of those bastards who wear suits, do up the top button on their shirts and know how to use a razor. Have you and your family considered living in a commune where you could be bussed out every day to protest against Trident (that’s a nuclear weapon, not a toothpaste), anti-austerity measures and Mars Bars getting smaller?
Yes, there are landlords who exploit people and yes, unequivocally they should be punished. There are also tenants who have made a career out of exploiting the system. Just ask Jeremy.